Saturday, February 24, 2007

¿En dónde están mis padres?

Exijo verlos. ¿En dónde están? Que estas palabras no sirvan de aliento. No moveré un ápice mi postura. Que el mundo se detenga. ¿Quién los esconde? Todos pretenden no saber. Sé muy bien lo que guardan. Todos siguen muy bien su pretención de vida. Todos hacen y reciben llamadas. Todos. ¿En dónde están mis padres? No detendré mis quejas, no acallaré mis visceras, no pensaré mis palabras. No más. Ni un paso más.

No moveré
el mundo
que esconde
muy bien
hacen y reciben
¿En dónde están?
No detendré
mis visceras
no pensaré
Ni un paso más.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Soccer, Baseball and Philosophy

I think Philosophy Departments should learn from sport teams. They both share a common essential property: they can’t be good if they can’t be a group. Universities in the US seem to have finally accepted their role as a profitable enterprise, rather than a civil association. After all, who believes in non-profit civil associations anyway? Philosophy Departments nowadays are getting unseen (which sounds close to obscene) amounts of money. Thus, Universities are fighting to get the best list of names to constitute their departments. This is, clearly, the same attitude as that of certain sport teams, Real Madrid and NY Yankees are the best examples.

Both the owners of the Yankees and the owners of Real, have just decided that the best strategy to get the best team is monetary. So they go on throwing insane amounts of money to everyone that is good enough to make it to the news. Both teams have that in common and, not surprisingly, more: they are both really bad teams. Both owner groups do not seem to realize that a bunch of people just does not amount to a team. Further, they do not seem to realize that if the reason why different individuals get together under a certain name is monetary, there is a big chance that they will not get together for the sake of being a group. The result: it has been a couple of years since both, the Yankees and the Real, have not done anything relevant as a team. Of course, that does not mean the owners are unhappy: they keep on with the profit since everyone wants to follow the set of individual star players.

Philosophy Departments should learn from this lesson. The NYU Philosophy Department in particular, should do so. Our contemporary NY Yankees of Philosophy should realize that a list of great individual philosophers simply does not amount to a great Philosophy Department. Furthermore, other philosophers at other departments should realize that too, and stop thinking of the Phil Yankees as the only Major League Departments, the Philosophers’ Paradise. Even more importantly, prospective graduate students should keep that in mind: getting into NYU might not necessarily mean being properly educated by a great department. There’s a chance that all you can do is walk through a hallway full of fancy names and learn philosophy by osmosis.

While NYU keeps on consistently trying to buy their Beckham’s and Ronaldinho’s I keep looking for a group of Philosophers that decided to become a Department, as opposed to sets of individuals that just happen to work for the same boss.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Death and Religion

“But Faith, like a jackal, feeds among the tombs, and even from these dead doubts she gathers her most vital hopes.”
H. Melvillle, “The Chapel”, Moby Dick

Not surprisingly, I have been thinking a lot on death. As it happens, I have been thinking, also, on the effects of death on my head. As a result of this, I have come up with a story. It is about religion. I have come to think that, among rational beings capable of meta-cognition, death goes very naturally with religion. There are some other ‘natural’ stories of religion at the market nowadays. Some of them adjudicate religion to human stupidity. My story is far away from this. According to my story, we should adjudicate religion to biological or evolutionary stupidity.

The story goes like this. Suppose that to have beliefs and desires somehow pays off in evolutionary terms. Suppose, further on, that this is owed to the fact that such beings are capable of theorizing about their environment. The cat ‘knows’ where the milk is, and the shark ‘knows’ when and where to attack. Suppose further on that there’s a mutant with second order cognitive capacities. Its mental states are not only linearly related but also hierarchically so. This animal not only has theories, it also knows that it has theories, and so the game begins.

Now, there’s an important link missing here. How is metacognition supposed to be of any advantage over cognition? Let me throw in another explanandum that I won’t dare to justify: love. This is another evolutionary engine. Love makes it possible for X’s theory of the environment to be communicated, taught, and even improved when received by Y. It is fun to individually come up with theories of different sorts. Theory making and story-telling are on a par here. But we would never get good theories, nor any biological payoff out of theorizing, if theories were lost with their inventors. Human-like-meta-cognitive rationality would be useless without the possibility of communicating, through generations, its achievements. This is what loves does. We learn theories, and how to theorize, at home, with our family. And it clearly breaks down into big developmental handicaps when there’s no such love. A loveless human is literally an incomplete human. So, this is the need: for things to work out well (biologically) humans had to develop a strong social connection, a bond strong enough to help the species survive throw individual-theory-making means.

But, as Hölderlin forgot to say, where the cure is there is the sickness. This is how we get to our big biological stupidity. The love-bond is so strong that when it disappears everything drains down the sewage. For the individual nothing makes sense anymore. The only way to keep going on is to find a way to keep the bond. The dead must somehow be revived. To believe in a transcending stage, where the formerly living ones are ‘still’ alive, makes a lot of sense. The survivors of the love-accident must (a biological must here) believe that the departed are still around. If we were not to love ‘so’ much, we would not need faith so much. But then again, if we were not to love ‘so’ much we would have probably already disappeared from this incredibly short story.

So far as I can see, there is a biological cause of faith. It’s just the necessary balm for life-related wounds. Some develop this faith under the label of ‘religion’. Others do so under different labels: ‘literature’, ‘philosophy’, and ‘science’ are among them. For once we theorize to celebrate life. But later, when the time comes, we keep on theorizing to celebrate death, and our long-celebrated cadavers of yore. So we not only get religions, but also traditions, habits, and cultures.

We love our dead because we live to love. And we will do anything, come up with any story, to keep our dead among us. And so, as Melville rightly says, death is “a speechlessly quick chaotic bundling of a man into Eternity.”

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Silencio (6)

“The Chapel” Moby Dick
H. Melville

In what census of living creatures, the dead of mankind are included; why it is that a universal proverb says of them, that they tell no tales, though containing more secrets than the Goodwin Sands; how it is that to his name who yesterday departed for the other world, we prefix so significant and infidel a word, and yet do not thus entitle him, if he but embarks for the remotest Indies of this living earth; why the Life Insurance Companies pay death-forfeitures upon immortals; in what eternal, unstirring paralysis, and deadly, hopeless trance, yet lies antique Adam who died sixty round centuries ago; how it is that we still refuse to be comforted for those who we nevertheless maintain are dwelling in unspeakable bliss; why all the living so strive to hush all the dead; wherefore but the rumour of a knocking in a tomb will terrify a whole city. All these things are not without their meanings.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Silencio (5)

The Raven (a fragment)
E.A. Poe

"Prophet!" said I, "thing of evil! -prophet still, if bird or devil!
By that heaven that bends above us -by that God we both adore
Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,
It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore,
Clasp a rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore."
Quoth the Raven, "Nevermore."

"Be that word our sign of parting, bird or fiend!" I shrieked, upstarting-
Get thee back into the tempest and the Night's Plutonian shore!
Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!
Leave my loneliness unbroken! -quit the bust above my door!
Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!"
Quoth the Raven, "Nevermore."

And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon's that is dreaming,
And the lamp-light o'er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted-nevermore!

Saturday, February 10, 2007

A pragmatic problem?

Suppose we want and have a pragmatic theory of mental states. According to this theory, mental states are the causes of behavior. Individuals of different species think in order to determine what to do. Mental states have contents; they are about something. This ingredient is important. The content of the mental state is said to be a possible state of the environment. Thus, mental states are ways of considering both, how the environment is and how it could be. A network of mental states gives, therefore, not only a way in which the environment is/could be, but also a way to modify it so that it becomes something that it currently is not. This is a general theory of mental states.

Thus, we should not only consider mental states that are about non-psychological parts of the world. That is, we must also consider mental states about mental states. All the way from ordinary second-order mental states – e.g., as when I believe that my belief that Ann Arbor is inhumanly cold is false – to equally ordinary, but less common, theoretical stands – e.g. as when I believe that a pragmatic theory of mental states is the correct one. If the latter ones are also mental states – as they seem to be – they should be accounted for by our theory. If our theory is correct, there must be a pragmatic reason causing that theory to be in our heads (or believed by us).

There are some mythical accounts of such theoretical states. Some of us – at least I – were educated / socialized in the belief that theory is done for the sake of truth. That is to say that philosophical and scientific research is done for the sake of the truth about the problems of philosophy and science. I now believe this is a big mythical story with two problematic claims. First, it assumes a ridiculous notion of truth, as if it were some thing beyond the ordinary objects of experience, something that we always aim at, but never reach. This story is mistaken. The truth-value discourse is an essentially psychological one. It is beliefs that are said to be true or false, not things, properties, or events. Second, it goes against our pragmatic theory of mental states by posing a pragmatic problem. If such a myth is true, then philosophers engage into philosophical mental states for no good reason beyond simply engaging in them. There is no philosophical thinking that is the means for something else. If this were true the number of happy philosophers would be quite greater than the actual one.

However, if our pragmatic theory is true, then all mental states, all thinking, is a means for a pragmatic goal. Philosophers and Physicists alike, do their thinking for something else than just thinking about problems. Individually this translates into goals like getting good jobs, being socially recognized, and even becoming a famous, fancy star within someone’s history book. Socially speaking, to think about our theories – to think about our thoughts, that is – has a very clear goal. Theory making is a way of revising our beliefs and, thus, a way of improving the means by which we make of the environment a more comfortable place. To keep on revising our beliefs is an issue of mental health. We should do it every few months, just like we do with other vital organs of ours.

In any case, one thing is true. Scientists and Philosophers do not pose a pragmatic problem to our theory of mind. They also do what they do for the sake of something else, and not for the sake of truth.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Silencio (4)

Demanda de Eternidad

Hay creencias que no podemos tener. Quien las tiene deja de ser. Hay creencias que no debemos tener. Son patologías, creencias mórbidas. No podemos creer, por ejemplo, que al termino de esta lectura todo reviente en un instante. El que lo crea revienta. Es curioso el funcionar de la mente. Todos sabemos de la muerte; pero nadie cree en ella. Todos dicen saber de sus consecuencias; pero nadie las logra imaginar. Tal pareciera que estamos biológicamente impermeabilizados ante la muerte. Siempre y cuando suceda a cierta distancia y con poca frecuencia, pasamos intocados por ella. Pero hay tormentas y tempestades. Y nuestra biología, se sabe, es incompleta, frágil e inútil. Cuando la tormenta es cercana resulta imposible cubrirse. No hay impermeabilización que sirva. No estamos hechos para creer que podamos morir y poder amar lo hace aún más difícil. Se antoja inútil amar cuando morir se puede. Un verdadero amor demanda una eternidad, a lo menos. Cualquier otro costo resulta inútil, embarazoso. ¿Por qué inventar más juegos? Vanidad de vanidades; todo es vanidad. ¡Quién nos manda creer cosas que no debemos!

Monday, February 05, 2007

Silencio (3)

De lo incomprensible

Escribo después de derramar muchas lágrimas y antes de muchas más. Y aunque cierta sensación general, que llamo prudencia, me invita a observar, no puedo dejar de cuestionar. ¿Por qué de pronto así, sin aviso, con tantas ideas y esperanzas? O bien, por el contrario ¿por qué tanto, tantísimo amor, tanta fuerza, tanta entrega si al final vendrá tanto dolor? ¿Por qué tanto dolor tan inútil, tan rabioso, tan incomprensible?

Es sabido que el orden tiene sus condiciones, fuera de las cuales se destroza como hoja de maple bajo los pies. Aún así se permite el placer de lo bello y, por encima de todo, se permite el amor. Como un lujo que dura lo de una pisada, o unas cuantas lágrimas. Y aún así ilimitado. Y aún así, incondicional. De ahí quizás lo incomprensible. Que resistimos el caos, que sostiene a este orden tan frágil y pesado, como titanes. Que ni siquiera Atlas podría conseguirlo. Con una fuerza tan firme, tan dura, tan incondicional como la de ese amor que se pierde como se pierden las hojas al andar. ¡Qué golpe tan duro! ¡Cuánto caos hay aquí! Tanta idiotez natural. Construirlo todo con una única fuerza capaz de desaparecer en un instante. De ahí quizás los dioses y sus mitos. De ahí quizás las religiones.

Se entiende, pués, que uno sea tan estúpido.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Against Nussbaum

Aristotle apparently had the nerve to believe in the existence of a function of man: to exercise rationality at its best. I say this because it seems more a matter of temerity than courage. Not only does it seem absurd and arrogant; it is also unnecessary. This, however, is not the focus of these lines. Rather, I intend to reject Nussbaum’s interpretation of Aristotle’s claim.

Nussbaum intends to explain why, for Aristotle, human nature is ethically relevant, and how this relates society with practical reasoning. Why should I, when thinking what to do, consider anyone else but me? Aristotle, through Nussbaum, replies:

“Deliberation takes place not in a vacuum, but in the polis.”

This seems an acceptable truism. Nussbaum, however, offers other answers too:

(a) “Prior to deliberating, I identify myself as a member of a certain group,”

(b) “(…) deliberation starts from a conception of human being”

(c) “Aristotle realized … the importance to ethical deliberation of a theory of personal identity.”

I believe (a) and (b) are mistaken, and the source of much one-sided normative confussions that build, first, a hierarchical structure between the individual and the group, and, second, locates the latter prior to the former. (c), however, seems obviously true: to determine what X should do it is necessary, at least, to presuppose an X.

It does not follow from (c) that anything like (a) or (b) must be the case. Personal and group identity and deliberation might be simultaneous achievements, and (c) still be true. Furthermore, (a) and (b) are false. Unless no deliberation is required to become a member of a group of rational beings, it is impossible to identify oneself as a member of such a group ‘prior’ to deliberating. Thus, (a) can only be true if human groups are not necessarily groups of individuals that engage in moral deliberation. This is simply not the case. As for (b), unless the concept of human being does not presuppose notions like ‘rational’, ‘deliberating’, and so on, it is impossible to have a notion of a human being without understanding what it is to be rational and to deliberate. Thus, (b) can only be true, if human beings are not necessarily (or essentially) rational, and so on. This, says the orthodoxy (Aristotle included), is false.

This is not to say that the community is irrelevant for the individual’s deliberation. I think it is relevant, and even necessary; but not because of what Nussbaum says (Fichte has a better account). Personal identity is NOT prior to deliberation. The community is NOT the starting point of the individual. And there is no point in making hierarchical distinctions between one and the other.

It might be better if we leave aside the arrogant dream of determining what the function of man is.

Silencio (2)

Según Aristóteles, la función define al objecto. Decir que mi función es pensar sería errar la mira o defender un comunitarismo metafísico rampante. Identificarme con todo ser pensante, perros, gatos y humanos por igual. Es necesario, entonces, estrechar los límites. Mi función parecía estar en relación con ellos; como la de otros con los suyos. Sólo así logro distinguirme de los demás, de perros, gatos y humanos. Ningún otro ser humano tenía esa función con ellos. Hay muchos candidatos de función. ‘Amar a’, ‘pensar en’, ‘cuidar a’, ‘ver por’, ‘decidr con miras a’, ‘tener pie en’, ‘ayudar a’, ‘crecer por’, ‘apoyarse en’ y muchas otras, podrían haberse señalado. Sin embargo, estas funciones ya no se cumplen. Según Aristóteles, de un corazón que no bombea sangre se dice que es corazón tan sólo de nombre. Parece entonces que soy lo que soy tan sólo de nombre.

Otros afirman, siguiendo en parte a Darwin, que hay características únicas a nuestra especie. Lenguaje y reflexión son algunas. Cuentan que son mutaciones seleccionadas por sus ventajas evolutivas; que garantizan la supervivencia. Ante el ¿cómo? todos responden: socialmente. La manera más directa de garantizar la continuidad es asegurando la familia, el clan, el grupo. Hace tiempo que no habrían lenguaje ni reflexión si no fuesen útiles a la familia, si no hubiese tal. Las características únicas de la especie parecen subordinarse a ésta. Parece entonces que he pasado a formar parte de otra especie, inexorablemente destinada a la extinción.

Todo parece indicar que he sufrido un cambio esencial.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Silencio (1)

Hay demasiado silencio a mi alrededor. Tengo la necesidad de escribir, pero he perdido tema. No se sabe hacia dónde, desde dónde, ni por qué moverse hacia allá. Sólo sé que tengo esta necesidad, este prurito, esta comezón interna. Yo mismo estoy expectante. Camino lentamente para observar a detalle lo que tenga que salir. Va a tomar tiempo. Es como si todo se hubiese detenido; como si sólo volaran las hojas, el viento. Y nada más.

Poema de un Amigo

La labor de las ardillas bajo la nieve

Tanta tinta gastada en estos años
atendiendo preguntas.

He aquí el tormento:
¿Qué es lo que queda?

…quedan las preguntas,
todas las preguntas.


Nosotros siempre nos callamos para oírte,
nos callamos para saber cómo atiendes tú las preguntas.

Tu vocación nos rebasa con naturalidad.

Tu vocación por responder preguntas
siempre nos sorprende.

Sólo te recuerdo cuánto te recrea lo que mejor haces,
cuánto le aprendemos.

Todo lo demás es casi pleno sin sentido en este pueblo,

pero se escucha la labor de las ardillas
debajo de la nieve

y anda el olor del ocote ardiente
por las calles.

Porque es una simple verdad:
los inviernos son cíclicos,
por más tristes,
y ahí nosotros,
haciendo ciclos más grandes.

(Moisés Vaca Paniagua)