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Archive for February, 2014

On Language and Mind

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“It seems to me that the most hopeful approach today is to describe the phenomena of language and mental activity as accurately as possible, to try to develop an abstract theoretical apparatus that will as far as possible account for these phenomena and reveal the principles of their organization and functioning, without attempting, for the present, to relate the postulated mental structures and processes to any physiological mechanisms or to interpret mental function in terms of ´physical causes.´ We can only leave open for the future the question of how these abstract structures and processes are realized and accounted for in some concrete terms, conceivably in terms that are not within the range of physical processes as presently understood—a conclusion that, if correct, should surprise no one.”

Noam Chomsky, Language and Mind

“There comes a point in time when words are useless commentary, immodest babbling beside the hard reality of suffering.”

                                                                                                                     –André  Dumas

“Anything that can be said at all can be said clearly. What we cannot talk about, we must consign in silence.”

–Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus

There are times when speaking our mind is no sweat at all. The right words at the right moment are just around the corner at our beck and call. The articulation is so fluid for we are more than certain of what is on our mind. We are so convinced that something is so true and has to be given a run for its money—no hemming and hawing at all. These are instances where we witness how compelling verbalized language is as it effectively grabs hold of what is playing in one´s mind and rarin´ to be released in a most dramatic fashion. Verbalized language is the “objective” channel that possibilizes the flow of “subjective” notions in comprehensible terms. In a world of human interactions, minds connect through language.

Yet, there are certain interactions between and among humans where minds connect even in silence. No language, spoken or written; not even a sigh nor a murmur; only a deep and mutual introspective understanding of the momentous event that has taken place. Even silence then has sound (as the title of a hit song of the 70s popularized by the duo Simon and Garfunkel says). It only proves to us that in particular instances, the mind has a depth that may not be imprisoned in the inadequate semantic margins of linguistic expressions.

Nonetheless, there are those who get ill at ease and asphyxiated by “the sound of silence” and hence try to find a way to liberate what is struggling within them by the versatile channels of artistic depiction: poetry, music, painting, sculpture, photography and installation art among others. Of these, poetry alone uses verbalized language but not to exactly represent in words on a one-to-one correspondence the depth and breadth of an experience for such in most—if not in all—circumstances is just unachievable. Poetry is an endeavour of profound approximation through the operation of symbolic articulation. In poetry, sentimental depth and breadth are captured in lofty expressions. Yet, poetry is also a humble recognition that the more sensitive aspects of life cannot be automatically captured in exact words. The terrain of the human mind is so expansive, multifaceted and elusive that language with all its limitations does not—and cannot—have the ascendancy, prerogative and advantage over it.

But that is where the exquisiteness of poetry lies. Without the semantic inadequacy of verbalized language, there is no weaving and unweaving, engagement and disengagement, ascent and descent of metaphors and allegories in the birthing of what the mind yearns to put in words and share with other minds to awaken, stimulate and inspire. In poetry as well as in prose, verbalized language is not displaced but plays a major role. However, a rich and fertile mind oozing with ideas is not only conferred with a conduit of representation through verbalized language but through the non-verbalized variety as well. The mind does not only have language to express its thoughts but equally to facilitate understanding. And out of understanding is the disclosure of knowledge. Understanding and knowledge are matters of the mind conveyed through language.

But we should not get sidetracked by the unilateral claim that knowledge is communicated alone through the instrumentality of verbalized language. Knowledge may either be explicit or implicit. The term used by the American-Hungarian polymath, Michael Polanyi, is “tacit knowledge” whose extensive discussion is the core of his outstanding philosophical treatise, The Tacit Dimension. Tacit or implicit knowledge is a kind of knowledge that may not be verbalized in language, i.e., inexpressible in a detailed discourse but whose existential significance in the reality of our being cannot be consigned to the sea of irrelevance for this is the type of knowledge that sustains the course of human evolution towards higher refinement.

© Ruel F. Pepa, 25 February 2014

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On Spectator Violence

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“Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence. In other words, it is war minus the shooting. …there are quite enough real causes of trouble already, and we need not add to them by encouraging young men to kick each other on the shins amid the roars of infuriated spectators.”

–George Orwell

A deafening crescendo of blaring cheers, hollers and heckles are normal in a mammoth stadium during a big game, much more during a championship match, between two contending teams with huge followings of whatever sport especially when the score is neck-a-neck. The performing gladiators on the arena that constitute the opposing sides have their own fans (the shortened form of “fanatics”) whose intensity of “partisan commitment” equates with that of their religious counterparts. When circumstances get more heated up and later obviously unhandy as push comes to shove, so to speak, effective crowd control becomes a gruelling, even a non-feasible exercise, as security personnel and police officers milling around the seat-section tiers are exceedingly outnumbered by the passionate spectators.

As the fast-paced action on the court (or field) is witnessed from the sidelines and up from the bleachers, emotions get extremely far above the ground and their intensity gets evidently pronounced from the ordinary “body English” to the more aggressive twists and turns topped by ear-splitting jeers, thunderous screams and strident cuss words echoing on all sides. Then suddenly the unexpected follows: soda cans, plastic and glass bottles, styropor packages and whatever is handy and disposable fly in all directions even right down to the sports ground where the game is being played hitting the players and the sideline officials as well as the referees/umpires, among others. And when there´s nothing more to throw away, that´s the time when the avid partisans of the rival teams would get rowdier as they finally discover themselves just being at arm´s length from each other and what automatically ensues at this point of frenzied moment are bare-knuckle punches and hard-hitting kicks flying here and there. Now, the whole scenario becomes one hell of a riotous battle of rabidly vicious spectators at the highest point of their most uncontrollable ferocity.

“Obsessive identification” with a team and/or more particularly with a more remarkably distinguished member(s) of a team makes a person a “fan”—a fanatic. Sports fanaticism, like its religious variety, chips away at rationality even while a fan throws up a truckload of “reasons” why s/he has put on a show as hot-blooded as what the more rational ones have observed. In other words, sheer fanaticism is irrationality, pure and simple. A further rationalization to align it with Pascal´s “the-heart-has-its reason-that-reason-does-not-know” is a case of “pseudo-philosophical” misappropriation. The fanatical spirit is a force that unites one with an exceptionally valued entity which in our present concern could be a sports team or a special personality in it. Rather than an official affinity, it is more of a psychological bond that makes a fan to feel that s/he her/himself is right at the very core of the team´s being which is utterly inseparable from her/him. It is therefore a case of losing oneself in the depth of her/his non-negotiable commitment to the team´s or team player´s fate, come hell or high water.

Such fanatical stance when antagonistically opposed by one with the same magnitude of fervency more likely results to violence of varied levels of intensity that commonly starts off from fiery bickering and in a lot of instances ends up into a horrible fracas, even into tragic loss of human lives. Both sports spectator and religious types of violence are tribal hang-overs: “If you are not with us then you must be against us.” Such a unilateral pronouncement has in it the same level of idiotic force in George W. Bush´s blatant statement at the highest point of his enraged bearing right after the 9-11 New York World Trade Center tragedy while rallying the rest of the world to get on his side. This is religious fervour brought into the geopolitical battlefield and may definitely be appropriated (or misappropriated, if you will) as well in the raucous ambience of a sports arena.

In the realm of sports, this condition is true practically everywhere. In the soccer football meccas of Latin America and Europe, fanatical devotees line up in a seemingly endless procession of pilgrims at the entrance of gargantuan stadiums to occupy their particular spaces inside and make their vigorous presence felt as a compelling strength on massive scale. As we say it here in España: “¡Futbol no es un deporte; es una religion!” (“Football is not a sport; it is a religion!”) And this is where the seriousness of the matter comes out.

Most of cosmopolitan Europe has already transcended the superstitious and dogmatic aspects of medieval religiosity in practically all forms and routines involved in it. Not as many since towards the end of the 20th century have been keen on attending to religious “duties” as their ancestors of many generations ago whose dogmatic and fanatical passion had been most particularly trained on the so-called “heretics” and “infidels” These were the focal spots of their hostile aggression to the extreme point of calling out for their extermination. Leaving behind the “mysteries” housed in religious cathedrals, the fanatical spirit of the contemporary human being has not waned at all but has at this point in time found new “sacred valleys” in the magnificent fortification of colossal sports centres in the most modern metropolis of 21st-century civilization.

However, as the French philosopher and social scientist Bruno Latour observes, “We have never been modern” (which incidentally is also the title of his more important treatise in the field of socio-anthropological studies). Nothing cultural has changed the primal natural impulse of humanity. From religion to sports, fanaticism is the name of the game. If the religious fanatics of the Dark Ages had the guts to terminate another human being´s life in the name of an exclusively valued faith, the same triggering factor gives the fanatical sports spectators of the present “Enlightened Age” to cause harm towards the others who do not belong to her/his “faith”. There must really be something “mysterious” (read: “yet unknown” in the modern scientific parlance) in the psycho-biological blueprint of our humanity that leads us towards irrational aggression when our most cherished conviction (read: faith, in religious parlance) is not only challenged but rubbed up the wrong way and hence transgressed.

© Ruel F. Pepa, 18 February 2014

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On Being Objective

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“Modern philosophy has tried anything and everything in the effort to help the individual to transcend himself objectively, which is a wholly impossible feat; existence exercises its restraining influence, and if philosophers nowadays had not become mere scribblers in the service of a fantastic thinking and its pre-occupation, they would long ago have perceived that suicide was the only tolerable practical interpretation of its striving. But the scribbling modern philosophy holds passion in contempt; and yet passion is the culmination of existence for an existing individual—and we are all of us existing individuals.”

–Soren Kierkegaard,Concluding Unscientific Postscript, trans. David F. Swanson and Walter Lowrie (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1941), p. 176

“What is the truth of this world? It is not the masses of substance, not in the number of things, but in their relatedness, which neither can be counted, nor measured, nor abstracted. It is not in the materials which are many, but in the expression which is one. All our knowledge of things is knowing them in their relation to the Universe, in that relation which is truth. A drop of water is not a particular assortment of elements; it is the miracle of a harmonious mutuality, in which the two reveal the One. No amount of analysis can reveal to us this mystery of unity. Matter is an abstraction; we shall never be able to realize what it is, for our world of reality does not acknowledge it. Even the giant forces of the world, centripetal and centrifugal, are kept out of our recognition. They are the day-labourers not admitted into the audience-hall of creation. But light and sound come to us in their gay dresses as troubadors singing serenades before the windows of the senses. What is constantly before us, claiming our attention, is not the kitchen, but the feast; not the anatomy of the world, but its countenance. There is the dancing ring of seasons; the many-coloured wings of erratic life flitting between birth and death. The importance of these does not lie in their existence as mere facts, but in their language of harmony, the mother-tongue of our own soul, through which they are communicated to us.”

–Rabindranath Tagore, “Creative Unity” in Great Works of Rabindranath Tagore (Delhi: Rose Publications, ____), p. 489

Objectivity as a philosophical issue is basically a matter of epistemological concern—a knowledge matter. From this emanate the questions: (1) Is there objective knowledge? (2) Are there other types of knowledge besides the objective? (3) What may be considered as objective knowledge? (4) When is knowledge objective? (5) Why is objective knowledge important? Perhaps more related questions could spontaneously arise along the way in the course of an extensive discussion of this issue.

Meanwhile, it is essential to initially get to the phenomenology of knowledge to set the baseline of the discussion. In this connection, we locate the occurrence of knowledge and in the process bring to light its fundamental components as a human phenomenon. Knowledge starts off in the act of knowing where a conscious knower (noesis) comes across an object of knowing (noema). Knowledge then is a condition wherein an object—i.e., an objective entity—is comprehended by the subjective consciousness of a knower. At this point begins the problematization of whether knowledge is subjective or objective. On the one hand, we assert that if knowledge is an event that occurs in a conscious mind, then it must be subjective. Nevertheless, it is likewise equally asserted on the other hand that in the occurrence of knowledge, something is “captured” by a conscious mind and hence knowledge must be objective. This “tug-of-war” triggers a question: Is knowledge one´s conscious grasp of something (and thus subjective) or is it something that is grasped by consciousness (and hence objective)? Or, better: What necessarily defines knowledge, the subjective comprehension of an object or the objective entity that is comprehended?

The act of knowing, which leads to the emanation of knowledge, is an act of conscious signification wherein a subjective knower “connects” with an objective entity that is known. Thus, as a matter of signification, knowledge is basically subjective. In this sense, what matters more is my—and  not anybody´s—knowledge of something. But the issue doesn´t end here as we direct our attention on the something.  Knowledge—as a matter of consciousness—does not stand alone; it is always knowledge of something (as the eminent phenomenologist Edmund Husserl stressed in the same vein that there is no consciousness as such but always consciousness of something). In the phenomenology of knowledge, it is not therefore possible to isolate from each other the noesis (the consciously knowing subject) and the noema ( the consciously known object).

Some generations before Husserl was the great German critical idealist philosopher Immanuel Kant who theorized on the preclusion of our knowledge of “substantive” objects in the world which he called “things-in-themselves” or noumena. He contended that we can only know the perceived properties or sense data which constitute the phenomental aspect of a noumenon but never its substantiality. In other words, we can only know phenomena and never the noumena. In the light of this theory, the subjective aspect of knowledge is apparently more pronounced than the objective. This conception should not however be confused with the subjective idealist presupposition of the Irish empiricist George Berkeley who theorized that reality is all in the mind and no objective entities are actually out there. In Berkeley, there is no objective reality, whereas in Kant, there is, except that it is unknowable, being inaccessible to human perception. As far as the Kantian assumption is concerned, “objective” knowledge is possible as long as what we mean by “objective” refers to the phenomenal or perceived properties of a noumenon and not to the noumenon itself. But at this juncture, the critical issue is not necessarily the perceived properties abstracted as they are but rather the diversity—and hence, a probable dissimilarity—of perceptions from the viewpoints of different individual perceivers (or preceptors). We cannot therefore automatically declare absolute objectivity of knowledge in the face of this unassailable condition.

Nevertheless, generally similar perceptions of objects and circumstances by a majority of perceivers are a reality. We call this “intersubjective” perception that leads to “intersubjective” knowledge. By virtue of the spontaneity of human cognitive processes that expand from individual consciousness to collective agreement and conventional acceptance, intersubjective knowledge is in effect raised to the level of the objective thereby possibilizing the reality of objective knowledge.

But where and how important in concrete terms is objective knowledge? Objective knowledge is indubitably the inalienable foundation of the general field of physico-natural science from whose dramatic progression through generations have tremendously developed modern (and post-modern) technologies by leaps and bounds and from which humanity has enormously benefited.

“ . . . Appeals from the depth of the scientific and the analytic convince the intellect to sing paeans of praises to the comfort and delight bestowed by the achievements of modernity—the wonders of technology, the life that has been made easy by a myriad of gadgets, instruments and equipment that rule households, offices and workplaces, even classrooms and game-boards of the modern age.”

[From “Fragments of Philosophy (or Philosophical Fragments) on the Sensitivity and Sensibility of Human Life Towards Transformative Philosophizing” in Sophophilia: Critical Readings in Philosophy by Ruel F. Pepa  . . . http://issuu.com/kspt/docs/sophophilia ]

Objectivity or being objective is a necessary condition of the mathematical, the scientific and the technological. We cannot do away with the established standard of objective precision in matters of science and technology. None of the sciences can ever tolerate less than the minimum limits of what is deemed objective.

Yet, over and beyond all the preconditions of the mathematical, the scientific and the technological is the personal which is essentially grounded on the reality of subjective existence. It is this very reality that bestows meaningfulness to one´s being. It is this very reality that measures and values the significance of all scientific and technological circumstances in the human world. Even the very essence of objectivity becomes irrelevant unless subjectively signified and appropriated as valuable, functional and advantageous in the human condition.

A critical shift of philosophical paradigm from the epistemological efficacy of the objective (veering towards the scientific) to the ontological (matters of being and existence) and the axiological (matters of philosophical valuation) magnitude of the subjective which maintains its philosophical footing is of the essence as we attempt to balance the scientific and the philosophical. In parting, let me quote from the conclusion of my essay, “Fragments of Philosophy” (or “Philosophical Fragments”) on the Sensitivity and Sensibility of Human Life Towards Transformative Philosophizing” (. http://issuu.com/kspt/docs/sophophilia ):

“TRANSFORMATIVE PHILOSOPHIZING takes us into the depth of the distinction between the objective and the subjective. In the context of how we deal with reality through the predominantly modernist approach of our generation, the scientific and the analytico-mathematical are generally taken to be objective. Objective considerations are defined not only in terms of the observable but more so in terms of the measurable/ quantifiable and the experimentable. If certain aspects of reality are deemed to be objective, it is therefore assumed that to do justice to their objectiveness/objectivity, the most appropriate step to an inquiry into or an exploration of it is via the scientific and/or the analytico-mathematical terrains. In other words, the objective is best analyzed and evaluated in scientific and/or analytico-mathematical terms. In modernist terms, we cannot really disengage the objective from the scientific and/or the analytico-mathematical.

“On that basis, it is truly difficult to deal with the objective in other terms. And since on the other side of the reality divide, the subjective rules, another field of human intellectual endeavour should be appropriated for its signification: the philosophical. The philosophical, therefore, associates itself with the subjective and vice versa. Matters of value and virtue, the choice of anything that suits individual, subjective preference, are matters of philosophy. . .”

© Ruel F. Pepa, 12 February 2014

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The Humorous Human

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“Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the universe.”
― Albert Einstein

“The trouble with having an open mind, of course, is that people will insist on coming along and trying to put things in it.”
Terry Pratchett, Diggers

Having a sense of humour is basically human (with the exception of the laughing hyena in the lower animal realm). Besides, the phrase “humorous human” is a case of alliteration and alliteration is a literary device used by wordsmiths to add an element of humour to a written piece. With acquaintances and friends in light moments and relaxed conversations, humorous punch lines and stories are common, in fact, even anticipated. More than being a homo socius (social being) and a homo loquens (talking being), homo sapiens sapiens is also a homo ridens (laughing being)—whether s/he is a homo or a hetero, it doesn´t matter. We want to crack jokes without necessarily appearing like crackpots. We want others to tell funny stories regardless of whether they are true or almost true (but not quite in many instances).

In an intensely fired up discussion which is almost a heated debate between protagonists in a formal meeting, an amusing line or two shot from the mouth of a witty guy could diffuse the tense atmosphere without the risk of being viewed by the others as a nuisance. However, too much joke unleashed in a supposedly serious undertaking will not only be a bullshit to spoil the event but will also drive sensible people furious towards the assholes that have turned the meeting into a stupid circus. To distinguish between a good and a bad sense of humour is therefore necessary and doing so takes one´s sensitivity of the people around and the sort of particular event s/he finds her/himself as well. In this sense, it is not always the case that what is humorous to me is likewise automatically humorous to other people and vice versa.

Humour also varies in degrees. On the one hand, there are those so-called slapsticks that are generally appealing to children and to those who remain childish despite their ages. On the other hand, there are satires which are the more sophisticated type of humour that appeals more to more mature people. A slapstick story particularly intended to tickle a child´s amusement may in some instance likewise tickle the shallow sense of humour of an adult. In this case, what finally becomes humorous is not the story itself but the immaturity of the adult. However, a satire that unexplainably tickles a child is not humorous but shocking. Why? Is it because the child miraculously got the punch of the satire? No. What is shocking is, the child is therefore not a child. And so what then is so humorous in this particular situation? Nothing, except the crazy idea that a child is assumed to be able to appreciate a satire which is one heck of a bullshit.

But seriously—if we could just be serious at least for a while—the sensibility of humour depends not only on one´s level of maturity but also relative to one´s cultural climate, geographical location and degree of intelligence. Again, one´s sensitivity of these factors is crucial. Even within a common geographical scope are a variety of cultural apparatuses and much more specific are the diverse levels of individual intelligence in a cultural frame of reference.

On a wider social scale, government and religion are two popular targets of humorous remarks, banters and tales. In a freer society with a more genuinely democratic government, even offensively critical quips draw popular raves and create a wildfire surge. People´s imaginations are triggered and more humorous comments issue out of them. A similar scenario is also true in relation to religion. Countless humorous anecdotes on certain idiosyncratic beliefs, practices and personalities circulate around and fascinate people to come up with their own versions of the stories.

However, in a more restrictive social condition of a country controlled by an authoritarian government (as in North Korea), humorous remarks and stories critical of government could mean stiff penalties ranging from incarceration to execution when the perpetrators are caught. That is terrifying enough. A similar situation could also be true in the case of making fun of certain issues seen in the ways of a conservative and dogmatic religion whose harshest punishment slapped on a pernicious offender is eternal hell-fire. Terrifying? No way. That is rather hilarious. In the 21st century, only idiots get scared of religious conditions as it is likewise idiotic to make fun of Kim Jung-Un while in North Korea. Cross the border first and broadcast your stories in Seoul.

Now let´s get serious once again (for the second time) and take the issue of the humorous human more philosophically (as if philosophy is always serious). The basic question is: Does humour make us human? Or, would it be more sensible to say that we have a sense of humour because we are human? In the latter consideration, it is fundamentally assumed that only humans are possessors of a sense of humour; no other living organism on planet Earth is so endowed . Like the “categorical imperative” which in Kant´s ethical theorizing is deemed inherent in humanity under normal circumstances, there seems to be a “humorous imperative” innate in us as human beings. We are therefore a “gifted” species whose normal life is made more exhilarating, exciting, challenging and pleasurable as we regularly spice it with humour. In other words, we are humorous basically because we are human. Humour naturally flows from our humanity and any control system of social or political origin aimed to hinder the free channel to openly express our sense of humour is a blatant infringement of the very essence of our humanity. We are humorous because we are human.

But doesn´t it also make sense to say that humour makes us human? In a lot of ways, yes. And what I mean here is, openly expressed humour that emanates from me and releases out of my being an energy of creativity that affirms my humanity not from the point of view of another person but from my very own point of view. My humanity—and anybody´s humanity for that matter—is on a progressive trail. Consciousness is in constant evolution. We as human beings are not finished products. We are our own “works of art” as we create ourselves moment by moment with the aim of becoming more and more human. Humour plays a tremendously vital role in this very process. In this sense, humour constantly maintains our humanity and hence makes us more human.

On a lighter note, even the very theories themselves advanced to explain the emergence of humanity on planet Earth is of humorous stuff. From the evolutionary side, it is the seed of humour spontaneously developing in the “mind” of our ancestral ape that led to the breaking away of the first human species from the animal world. From the creation side, even the deity´s act to create human beings was an expression of his sense of humour as he has endowed them with the same propensity to be humorous and make the world a colossal carnival.

Sounds apocryphal or perhaps even heretical? Ah, whatever.

© Ruel F. Pepa, 6 February 2014

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