Monday, October 5, 2009

Reading Heidegger

In 1995 I bought a copy of Martin Heidegger’s “Being & Time” from my local bookstore and took it home to read. I made myself some tea, sat down at my desk, and opened the book. After about a page and a half I closed the book, mumbled “what the hell . . .”, and put it on the shelf.

After a week or so I picked it up again. After reading 2 or 3 pages I was absolutely sure I was out of my league. I closed the book and put it back on the shelf.

The black dust cover with the white lettering beckoned me every time I walked past the bookshelf. After several more failed attempts at understanding I told myself not to worry about understanding and just read the damn book. When I reached the end of the 488 pages something had happened but I didn’t know what it was, so I started over.

Since 1995 I have read “Being & Time” over 70 times. Early on, about the 2nd or 3rd reading, I found that I was reading the book as if I already knew what Heidegger was talking about. It was a great way to find out that I didn’t know what the hell I was talking about. To force myself to slow down I decided to type the book. Over the next 6 or 7 months I typed all 488 pages on my computer.

After 14 years of study I know why people find Martin Heidegger difficult to read (more on that later).

Let’s step back into the history of philosophy for a moment. In 1637 Rene Descartes concluded that he is a “thinking thing” and he can be certain that he exists because he thinks. This is represented by his famous cogito ergo sum (“I think, therefore I am”).

How did he come to that conclusion?

In Part IV of “Discourse on the Method” he attempted to arrive at a fundamental set of principles, rules that he could know as true without any doubt. (He wanted proof of be-ing). Descartes arrived at a single principle: thought exists.

As he was sitting there thinking about “thought exists”, he could have noticed “I’m thinking.”

After a short while he probably could have come up with “I am = being” or “I am being, therefore I think”. From there it is a very short leap to “I am. I think.” or much more accurately “I am, thinking.” He could have then noticed that the “I”, the “am”, and the “thinking” are all be-ing.

How the hell do you write about “I am, thinking”?

If Descartes would have stopped at “I am, thinking” he wouldn’t have been able to publish his “Discourse on the Method.” He would have had nothing to write about.

He needed to re-configure “I am, thinking” into something he could write about.

So he went back to “I am, thinking.”

He flipped “I am, thinking” to “I think, therefore I am.” He now had something to write about.

Did you notice the subtle difference between “I am, thinking” and “I think, therefore I am”? In the first one the “I”, the “am”, and the “thinking” are all be-ing. In the second one, “I” and “think” are distinctions that are separate from each other.

Now that he made the separation between “I” and “think” all he had to do was to come up with a definition that supported his conclusion.

He wrote “the body is like a machine and has the material properties of extension and motion and that it is subject to the laws of physics.” In the very next sentence he then wrote “the mind (or soul) is a non-material entity that lacks extension and motion and does not follow the laws of physics.” He probably let out a huge sigh of relief when he put those words on paper.

Did you notice what just happened? He made body and mind two sides of the same coin.

So now when you read “the body is like a machine and has the material properties of extension and motion and that it is subject to the laws of physics” you assume he is talking about you.

On the other side of the coin, when you read “the mind or soul is a nonmaterial entity that lacks extension and motion, and does not follow the laws of physics” you assume he is talking about something the body does called “thinking” because “thinking” is “a non-material entity that lacks extension and motion.”

Descartes also concluded that “thinking is his essence as it is the only thing about him that cannot be doubted.”

If you read that conclusion again you will see that Descartes separates “his essence” from “thinking”, just like you do.

If Descartes were standing on different ground he could have come up with a different conclusion. He might have said “thinking/be-ing is the only thing that cannot be doubted.”

In summary let’s look at what Descartes actually did with his conclusions. 1) he proposed that the body is a material entity, 2) he determined that the mind (or soul) is a non-material entity, and 3) he stated that thinking is separate from his essence and it is the only thing that cannot be doubted. You put these three conclusions together in the same brain and you come up with “I think, therefore I am”.

A conclusion is that place where human beings refuse to think past.

Let’s introduce another variable into the mix and see what this does to Descartes’ thinking.

Imagine that you are standing there and holding your arms out in front of you. In the left hand you have the body and as you look at the body you are reminded of Descartes’ properties of the body (material entity, extension, and motion). In the right hand you hold the mind or soul (non-material entity, lacks extension and motion).

Let’s read that again, differently.

Imagine that you are standing there and holding your arms out in front of you. In the left hand you have the body and as you look at the body you are reminded of Descartes’ properties of the body (material entity, extension, and motion). Imagine that in the right hand you hold the mind or soul (nonmaterial entity, lacks extension and motion).

Who is the “you” that we’re talking about here? It looks to me like “you” have the body and “you” have the mind. If “you” have the body and the mind, “you” can’t be the body and the mind. You ever try to stand up and sit down at the same time? You can’t. Stay with me here. I’m not playing any mind games. I am uncovering something.

If you aren’t your body and you aren’t your mind, who are you?

Some religions have temples with 2 “beasts” at the front door. I opine that these temples represent humans “be-ing" and the beasts represent confusion and doubt.

As you go through life, you create an intricate web of conclusions so that you never have to deal with confusion and doubt. The conclusions you come to or have adopted keep you on the outside of the temple.

Once you muster up the courage to get past confusion and doubt you can step into the temple. Immediately upon entering you have a “sense”, a hint, that you may not know anything and your life has been a sham. That’s the good news.

As you stand there, you realize that none of the mentors you have chosen in life has been qualified to lead you to where you want to go. You know that because you have left them all in the dust. Once you determined that their answers didn’t even work for them (from your point-of-view) you discarded them. By the way, if they are still around it doesn’t mean they haven’t been discarded.

What happens when you discover that nobody on the planet can lead you in the direction you want to go? That nobody on the planet has anything to contribute to your quest? On top of all that, you realize that none of your “answers” have made any difference.

Despair creeps in. What the hell is left? If nobody has anything to contribute to you and you don’t have anything to contribute to them, where do you look?

You can’t look to philosophy. When you read philosophy you cover up be-ing with a tangled web of concepts, conclusions, presuppositions, and defendable positions. What you end up with is absolutely no clarity about who you are.

Let’s be honest with each other. There has been a lot of philosophy books published solely for the purpose of making money, securing one’s place in history, or to gain membership in the philosophy publishers club.

Imagine a planet full of people who don’t know what the hell they are talking about, quoting philosophers without having “picked at the fabric”. These same people are strutting around distracting themselves and the other inhabitants from the job at hand. No wonder the world is screaming for peace!

Reading Martin Heidegger is a calling. It is you calling your self to be-ing. Heidegger doesn’t write philosophy, he philosophizes. Philosophizing uncovers the cover-up.

There is no philosophy. There is only philosophizing!

Remember when we picked apart the “fabric” of Descartes’ conclusions?

The only way to create a clearing for your self to show up in is to “pick at” conclusions so they are brought into the light. “Picking at the fabric” allows you to see if the philosopher’s thinking is dead-on. Once you “pick at the fabric” you will uncover new distinctions (be-ing) and it won’t matter who the philosopher was because you will be the philosopher.

When you read Heidegger, what you are looking for doesn’t show up on the page that you are reading. What you are looking for can’t be written about; it can only be pointed to. Heidegger calls it “circular questioning.”

Martin Heidegger is “difficult” to read because as you and Heidegger walk around the circle together, you, not Heidegger, are peeling away the layers of misconceptions, mis-information, and presuppositions. As you peel away those layers you discover that you’ve always been there, waiting.

When you find your self standing in a clearing (and you will), you won’t pick up the turd again. This is freedom. This is the only freedom. This is the freedom you have been looking for your entire life.

There is only one philosopher you should place on a pedestal and listen to, that’s your self.

You want to make a difference? You want to change the world? Leave each other alone and get to work.

You can be who you are in a world of machines,
But you can’t be a machine and know who you are.

Monday, September 7, 2009

The Subject is The Predicate

Do you remember when you were in elementary school and the teacher showed you how to diagram a sentence?

Every sentence is made up of a subject and a predicate, right? When you diagram the sentence, you draw a horizontal line and split it in two with a vertical line. The left side is for a thing called the subject and the right side is for a thing called the predicate.

Subject     Predicate

So, “The blackboard is black” would look like:

blackboard    black

Then you would hang diagonal lines under the subject and write in an adjective or an article (the, a, or an). Modify the predicate and you put a diagonal line under it and write in an adverb. If you have more than one subject (called compound subjects) you would put subject #2 under the other subject. You could also have multiple predicates and you would put predicate #2 under the other predicate. You could modify the compound subjects and you could modify the compound predicates. The more sophisticated you are the more agile you become with compound subjects, compound predicates, adjectives, articles, and adverbs. The more sophisticated you become the more compound subjects, compound predicates, and modifiers you acquire. As you can see, it doesn’t take long for you to have a large web of subjects, predicates, adjectives, adverbs, and articles in your repertoire.

Some of the ways we describe ourselves are:
I am married.
I have a wife.
I am homeless.
He is a policeman.
I drive a BMW.
He is a good person.
He is the alpha male.
I don’t want to.
She is the CEO of her company.
The car is white.
We are Christians.
I am better than you.
My husband doesn’t love me like he did before we got married.
You are an infidel.
I can’t control my daughter.
My son is a failure.

The list is endless. Life is full of subjects and predicates. You can’t communicate without them.

You use subjects and predicates just like you use fingers and toes. The problem is that we have done a damn good job of convincing ourselves that we are our subjects and predicates.

What if diagramming a sentence has nothing to do with sentence diagramming? What if it is an indicator that life is going in the wrong direction? What if it is a clue that you are going down the wrong path?

Why are the subject and predicate separated by a vertical line?

Is it merely the copula or connector like our teachers told us? Or, is it something more? What is represented by the vertical line? More importantly, why haven’t we pressed on and demanded an answer about that vertical line? It’s almost as if everybody is saying “S-h-h-h-h, don’t ask about the vertical line.”

The vertical line represents the am and the is in the ways we describe ourselves (see above).
The dictionary defines the am as: the 1st person singular of be.
The dictionary defines the is as: the 3rd person singular of be.
The dictionary defines be as: verb and auxiliary verb. 1) To exist in actuality; have life or reality

Those aren’t definitions! The dictionary doesn’t tell us anything! In fact, the dictionary turns be-ing into things called verbs, auxiliary verbs, 1st person singular, 3rd person singular, existence, actuality, life, and reality.

That’s not am-ing, is-ing, or be-ing!

The dictionary can’t define be-ing! If it could you wouldn’t be reading this. It couldn’t exist. It wouldn’t have been written because there would have been no condition to write about.

You are not a thing called a being or a thing called a human being. You are be-ing! Be-ing is different than things!

We have spent over 2500 years avoiding the issue. We have been looking for be-ing in the subjects, in the predicates, and in the dictionary because we already know it’s not there! Putting up a smoke screen and distracting yourself with all of the drama of life will not make it go away. Like they say, insanity is doing the same thing over and over again hoping for a different result.

This condition has existed for over 2500 years. It has been addressed by Socrates, Emerson, and others. What makes you think it will disappear in your lifetime? The time has come for us to raise ourselves above the level of territorial monkey and start be-ing human.

Only you can define be-ing! And you can only define be-ing for yourself. You can’t do it for anybody else so leave them alone and let them do their own work!

The dictionary can’t define be-ing and the world is incapable of doing it for you. The world won’t know who you are until you reach into the abyss that is you and create something that doesn’t already exist. If you don’t define who you are, it won’t get done.

In the course of your life you will do what it takes to provide yourself with food, clothing, and shelter or you will die. That’s a no-brainer! You will do what it takes to procreate. Or you won’t. You will have houses, cars, stature, jobs, toys, & relationships. You will spend your entire life doing and having. You don’t have to reach into the abyss to survive.

Now that doing and having are taken care of, what about be-ing? Who are you going to be while you provide yourself with food, clothing, shelter, toys, and all the others things you will acquire? Who is going to show up in life to raise your kids?

Are you going to hide out in your marriage and blame your wife for your life not being fulfilled? How about spending time with your things and telling the world how great you and your things are? You could climb your way to the top of the company ladder and show the world who’s the boss? Are you going to hide out in the television and in the newspaper when you come home from work? Are you going to tell your children that “Children are meant to be seen and not heard”?

Will you answer the call of be-ing, strike out on your own and dis-cover who you are. or will you get scared to death, throw a tantrum, join a club of tantrum throwers and distract your self, again. The world is full of people defending their right to be distracted.

Two things to remember:
1) The unspoken agreement in life is: “If you don’t call me on my bullshit, I won’t call you on yours”
2) The only way anybody can bullshit you is because you are bullshitting yourself.

Do something else! Put down the turd and let something else take its place.

Why put down the turd? That’s easy. It’s the only way to find out who you really are. As long as you are playing patty-cake with the turd, life is the turd.

The answers to life are not in the subject and the predicate; the answers are in the vertical line. But you already knew that. Ultimately, when all else is said and done there are no subjects, there are no predicates, there are no definitions.

There is only you, the vertical line – be-ing.

You, be-ing, is the answer the world is looking for.

You can be who you are in a world of machines,
but you can't be a machine and know who you are.