Metacognition

I sat in on a friend’s epistemology class a few days ago. Sitting there, being DREADFULLY quiet, reminded me of a few things. Foremost, it reminded me how much I desire a sort-of laymen’s philosophy, or a philosophy lite (it’s less filling, but it still tastes great). I’m not saying that what’s needed is something that should be dumbed down (strange that so many people seem to believe that if you attempt to simplify things that you automatically dumb it down. This is not so), but we need something that is accessible. Something that is something that people want to learn. And sitting there in that classroom reminded me of why there are so many people out there who badmouth academia in general and philosophy in particular. It wasn’t fun! I’ve heard all throughout my academic “career” that learning isn’t always supposed to be fun. That sometimes things had to be slogged through and endured. But why? Why should somethng that is, at it’s core, supposed to be about the whole of humankind so repellent to nearly everyone who encounters it? Is that the way that is’t really supposed to be? I was listening to Bill Nye (the science guy) talking to George Norry explaining how teachers should teach science to kids (screw kids, they should be teaching this way to adults!). He said learning about science should be fun. That’s what makes people want to learn more. People want to remember what they learned from an enjoyable experience and tend to want to forget what happened during crappy events. I heard a biologist say that, despite the fact that the human brain has receptors for pain and none for pleasure, sexual intercourse feels good because it’s supposed to be done. You’ll be more likely to keep doing it (and thus, keep procreating) if what you’re doing feels more pleasurable as opposed to having the sensation that you’ve been jabbed through the eye with a hot poker… repeatedly. The human race would not have come (no pun intended) far if every time one had sex, you did something unpleasant like vomiting uncontrolably. Well, philosophy ain’t sex, but there’s really no justification (to use a philosophy word, here) as to why learning all this philosophy stuff has to feel like the hot poker instead of poking the hot chick. I heard a fellow student lament that we were spending so much time plowing away at theories that we weren’t doing much philosophizing. He said we were spending too much time reading and not enough time talking (but then, he did say that he’s a postmodernist). The professional philosophers are too wrapped up in being purists about what they do to see that what they’re doing is supposed to be … well, like life. and so far as I’ve been able to see, life ain’t pure. it’s kind of messy and hopelessly prone to inconsistency. But that’s exactly my point. I sat in a really quiet classroom that day, and quite frankly, I worried that no one in that classroom would remember anything that they had heard the professor say that morning once the class had ended. When I talked to my friend after her class, I told her that one problem with philosophy is that there is so much heavy lifting involved with learning anything (most people have neither the time nor the inclination to dredge through learning the intricacies of Kant’s Transendental Idealism or Rusellian definite descriptions), that people get turned off to the whole project. They shouldn’t. I told her that, and I wholeheartedly believe this, nearly any philosophic theory can be distilled to a core set of ideas that can be expressed in five sentences or less. I said that I am an existentialist, but that existentialism can be reduced (another philosophic term) to a handful of core ideas. As long as you get those, you qualify. All that other stuff — the heavy lifting — is good to know, but not absolutely necessary for solving life’s little dilemmas or figuring out which space to park at Target. I think that, if someone said that if you never learned how to read, and you were a Christian, all you really need to know are the Ten Commandments and “The Golden Rule”, and if you obey those two main guidelines you’d be a fairly successful Christian, that no one would object. It’s good to read Jude, but not totally necessary if you want to live according to the life of Christ. The same goes for philosophy. Quite frankly, I think that sometimes reading it is what causes the problem. Besides, Sartre is beyond boring. Like living as a Christian, the emphasis of philosophy should be as living life as a philosopher. Living, at least the last time I checked, has to do with occasionally having some fun. The essence of life is not only to learn as much as you can but to enjoy the moments that you have. We have a limited time here (in this life or this incarnation or whatever), and should be room for us to not only read what others have to say about what all this is and means, but to occasionally try it out for ourselves. You might not get it exactly right, but at least we know how it works in the real world. The object here isn’t just to think and think about what we are thinking (about), but to do. Speaking of do… I had debated for a long time whether I should eventually get around to admitting to myself why I started all this philosophy business in the first place. My question was never regarding whether I was going to admit it (since I already have to several people), but whether putting it in a blog would scoot my semi-serious philosophical explorations from legit to Go Ask Alice. I think that the last thing that anyone would or should masquerade as philosophy is a bunch of diary entries — though I suspect this is exactly what Rene Descartes did in his Meditations. I tend to think that, in the realm of philosophy, that ethics is really the only philosophy that matters. That’s because no matter how much we may argue for a particular epistemic or ontological postition or view, we’ll never know if what we say or believe is “truth” or not. With ethics, we can pick a theory, put it into practice, and get results. We can see where utlitarianism goes awry, we can see the benefits of egoism, or determine that Kant’s ethics are the best set ot moral principles after all. We can do ethics. So much of ethics, and I think that this is true, even for the utilitarian, deals with motivation. We don’t only ask what we should do, but also why we should or shuld not engage in a particular act. Asking ourselves these questions usually helps most of us to act in a reasonably morally correct manner. Unfortunately, some of us ask ourselves this question — in particular the why part– a little late. Like, three quarters before we graduate with a degree in philosophy kind of late. Sitting in my friend’s epistemology class reminded me that, had I properly evaluated my intentions, I should have not pursued a philosophy degree. So, what’s my reason? Why did I decide to take up philosophy? The short answer is: cute guy. If there is anything that would make philosophy unfun (besides reading Kant), it’s taking up a major for the sole purpose of staring at the professor. It’s typical, it’s lame, and it never comes of anything… but that’s my reason. I’m not embarassed about many things (things I should be embarassed about), but that’s definitely one of them. Now, if you’re sharp, you’ve already connected why I mentioned that epistemology class. Have Fun!

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