Any sort of break from responsibilities tends to behave as a sort of fertilizer for introspection. It’s no surprise that it used to be the core of my existence during my teenage years. In the years where I spent much time working at home, away from people, what else could occupy my mind? Of course, introspection is not necessarily fruitful.
I have many friends whose goal is to reduce their thinking. I can sympathize. Wittgenstein once remarked that the “philosopher treats a question; like an illness.” He approached philosophy as a sort of “therapeutic” enterprise, where instead of building grand theories, philosophy should expose the faulty assumption that underlie our great questions. I cannot doubt that Wittgenstein says this, in part, as a response to his own heavy amount of introspection.
Why should introspection be “like an illness?” I cannot present any formidable answer to that question. However, I can present an analogy that perhaps yields some insight.
Imagine some vast ocean. These are your emotions. Where do you stand while inspecting this ocean? Perhaps on raft, a boat, some cruise-line; or perhaps you are helplessly paddling around in the ocean itself. This is your reasoning.
This analogy is meant to serve as a primitive model to how thinking works for humans. If we find ourselves in some peaceful tides, with a beautifully clear sky that stretches to the horizon, why think at all? Or this could be the best environment for thinking. What can be derived from this analogy is that introspection does not occur in a vacuum. Whatever thinking is being performed, it will inevitably be plagued by the emotions that underlie it.
So why think at all? Well, how else do you expect to navigate better? In the introduction to “The Foundations of Arithmetic,” Frege expounds his fundamental principle of “always to separate sharply the psychological from the logical, the subjective from the objective.” Conveniently, he offers no way of doing this. (To be fair, there probably isn’t a way to do this.) Yet, it’s what makes any sort of thinking fruitful. Particularly, introspection allows a person to approach a problem in a more logical form. Even though reactions to any life event will be emotional, it is introspection that allows someone to fight against the currents.
As negative as the exercise may appear to be, it is ultimately the only way to wrestle with our humanity.
Epistemology and “The Human Condition”
“Probably the most important lesson I’ve learned from epistemology is that most human problems involve epistemological problems. We can question whether the world exists, and if it does, whether it is as we think it is. We learn that there is some form of logical leap taken whenever one wants to accept anything about the external world, and this such leap is salient in everyday problems. I thought such-and-such thing was in a such-and-such state, so I reacted accordingly. Problems occur. We can take this a bit further and then question patterns and their ability to predict the future. We believe a such-and-such event will cause some other such-and-such event, and I react accordingly. Problems occur. These problems, though, seem to be a mere puzzle where we know the start and the end, and we are merely trying to find a correct path. We have general strong views on how the world is and how the future behaves thanks to math and science, and we are simply creating the logical steps to transforming them into solutions.
The trickier problem is the problem of other minds. Initially, one can question the existence of other minds. More or less, there are generally accepted views of this. Yet, if we ask about the content of other minds, we are in trouble. We’d like to think that what is in our minds is reflective of what is in the minds of other people. This problem seems easier out of sheer amount of information; the other person can talk to you! However, that really only exacerbates the problem, as this quote eloquently states:
“I am not what I think I am. I am not what you think I am. I am what I think you think I am.”
The problem lies in knowing ourselves, and being secure in knowing ourselves. The difficulty lies in our ability to be deceived, since the other person is able to lie. The project of epistemology is to produce reasonable ways of answering, or at least overcoming these problems.”
What is unexpected is how close to home these problems are.
means being aware of your most fundamental assumptions.
“ Concentric geometries of transparency slightly
joggled sink through algebras of proud
inwardlyness to collide spirally with iron arithmethics…
E.E. Cummings, “W [ViVa]” (1931)