Skyping blindfolded

Yesterday, I advanced the counterintuitive thesis that my philosophical friends and I are better off having philosophical conversations over Skype than we would be were we to have philosophical conversations in person. I promised that I would prove why this thesis is nonetheless true and, in so doing, that I would show how Skype can serve as a platform that makes possible philosophizing as living discourse.

What stands in my way of making this case is a set of four interlocking assumptions concerning how we know ourselves and each other. I will call this picture a ‘naive empiricism,’ one that we have taken to be common sense and one that stretches back to the birth of philosophy. The ‘naive empiricist’ believes

I know this living person because

    1. I can see him (the visible);
    2. he is near me in space (here);
    3. he and I occupy the same time (now); and
    4. it is often true that 1-3 hold (frequency/reliability).

Metaphorically speaking, then, I know myself because

    1. I can ‘see’ myself (introspection: the ‘mind’s eye’);
    2. I am ‘near’ myself (being present 1);
    3. I am ‘on time’ with myself (being present 2); and
    4. it is often true that 1-3 hold (frequency/reliability).

(One could conjecture that this is a rather ‘tribal’ conception of knowing: I see John here and now and quite often and thus I say that I know John.)

As we examine each assumption, however, we soon discover that each is not true. First, seeing another or ‘seeing’ myself provides no guarantee that I know the other or myself. For a family member may see me but never know me. And I may introspect but never find out anything illuminating about myself. Next, someone’s being near me or my being ‘near’ myself may grant me no privileged access to knowing him or myself. I may stand in a crowded subway car, yet I wouldn’t say that I know my neighbor. Or I may be hyper-aware of my physical location without ascertaining anything significant about myself. Next, my being in the same punctual ‘now’ as another may be nothing more than contingent: John and I, say, happen to be good with clock time, but apart from that we have never said a word to each other. Last, the claim that these things are often the case either with another or with myself may only lead to glossed-over familiarity, to taking something for granted, as when I see the same landscape each and every morning without the sense of aesthetic appreciation.

This ‘naive empiricism’ may run deep within us, but it does not follow that it is true. It runs so deep, in fact, that when one goes and seeks guidance, one likely believes that the guide must be here, now, and before one’s face. These are all mistakes.

Instead, I want to explore how we actually come to self-understanding. On my account,

  1. one comes to know oneself and another best (i.e., in a philosophical sense) through the ear and living voice and thus through the invisible dialogue;
  2. each voice is here in the sense of being properly responsive to the uttered words of the other; and
  3. each does not occupy clock time (1, 2, 3,…) but rather the unhurried time of philosophical inquiry (slowness beyond slowness);

Living discourse, thus, unfolds as a genre in which philosophical guide and philosophical friend cannot see each other yet are properly responsive, in an unhurried way, to the basic question put to the philosophical friend. In this fashion, the philosophical friend can come to know himself.

In the following post, I will try to show how Skype can facilitate living discourse so understood. When we converse via Skype, it is as if we were going about things blindfolded.

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Skyping as living discourse

All of my philosophical conversations are held over Skype, and my philosophical friends (formerly called conversation partners) and I are the better for it. The claim that ‘we are the better for it’ is counterintuitive, yet it turns out to be true. The object of these posts will be to establish both why this is the case and how it is that Skype can serve as a platform that makes possible philosophy as living discourse.

I begin with two elementary observations and one counterintuitive conclusion.

  1. By the end of 2012 when Aleksandra and I left New York City for rural Appalachia (we have since moved to Southern California), I noticed that all of my philosophical friends and patrons were living  either on the West Coat or in Western Europe. By the end of 2013, I observe that all are living in Europe, Canada, and South Africa.
  2. Despite not being based in a large city, I have found that my philosophy practice has grown dramatically since December 2012.
  3. I can conclude, rather counterintuitively, that my current philosophical friends have made more progress in their self-understanding when philosophical conversations have been held over Skype than former philosophical friends had made when conversations used to take place in person and used to last much longer (3 hours, 6 hours, a half-day, and so on).

Quite often, we read that technology is alienating, not life-enhancing; that screens are distracting, not one-pointed; that personal connections, not impersonal exchanges are what matter; and, as a species, that we are getting worse at taking face-to-face time with each other. How, then, can it be, as I wish to argue, that the cultivation of the ear without the eye is a much better way of reaching philosophical self-understanding than the use of the ear together with the eye (and hand)? How can it be that the voice-to-voice flowing in eternal time is superior to the face-to-face? How can we be present when we are decidedly absent?

The assumptions we commonly make about self-knowledge and mutual understanding run very deep. I explore these assumptions and the above questions on the following days.

Via negativa toward second-order beauty

These questions would have to be asked of oneself during meditation or during a philosophical conversation.

I

What is not movement?

What is at rest.

What is not rest?

What is in movement.

Then, what is neither in movement nor at rest?

What dwells. All-encompassingness.

Spiritual Exercise: To be all-encompassing. To be whole.

II.

What is not dependent on this?

Whatever is dependent on that.

And what is not dependent on that?

Whatever is dependent on this.

And what is neither dependent on this nor on that?

Whatever is dependent on these.

And what is not dependent on this, that, or these?

Whatever is dependent on those.

And what is neither dependent on this nor on that nor on these nor on those?

What is: independence.

Spiritual Exercise: To be independent.

III.

What is not proper, i.e., bounded in power, measure, or responsiveness?

What is unbounded in power, measure, and responsiveness.

How shall we call ‘what is unbounded…’?

Dilation.

Spiritual Exercise: To dilate.

Remark

Second-order beauty encompasses (is wholeness), is independent (is itself), dilates (is expansiveness). Hence, second-order beauty welcomes.

The second aspect of reality revisited

I am thinking of radiance, thinking radiantly. So far, I have argued that reality consists of beings (finitude), being (totality), and non-being (infinity). I wish to revisit totality today.

Before, I claimed that the feature we perceive in totality is wholeness. In terms of ethics, we would want our souls to be as whole as totality is. This account, however, is incomplete.

After morning meditation, I came to realize that totality is

  1. dilating (or expansive) and
  2. encompassing (making-whole).

To say that this aspect of reality ‘dilates’ is to say that it widens, broadens, stretches, and ‘breathes’. To say that this aspect of reality ‘encompasses’ is to say (so to speak) that it wraps itself around all there is (finitude).

Next, ethics. To live in accordance with the ‘dilating’ and ‘encompassing’ features of totality is thus

  1. to feel oneself widen and stretch outward and upward so that one’s excellences are practiced as widely as possible as well as
  2. to feel that all of one’s salient virtues have reached the second-order beauty of which I have previously written: this being beauty of soul.

Ultimate stillness

Quails honk at sunrise,

stop honking, honk some more.

/

All sounds we hear

come and go.

All sounds ever heard

or to be heard

form a  storehouse of sound

and temporary silence.

/

Then, what is not all-sound and all-silence?

The source of all sound and soundlessness is the without-sound,

the beyond-sound.

Nameless, ultimate stillness, ultimate silence.

/

How to stop listening to and listening for?

How to stop hearing this, not hearing that,

and hearing and not hearing all?