27 May 2013

Screen Shot 2012-09-02 at 9.37.36 PMUp at 5:30, wanted to do stairs but my favorite Nurse said I shouldn’t go outside the ward and because Nurse Sun Sun is so good at her job and so nice to me, I obeyed. I walked the ward, did 100 supine pull-ups with simultaneous leg raises (not nearly as hard as French Foreign Legion “real man” pull-ups) and improvised a supine dance to Raga Mishra Piloo.

Congee (fluffy and watery), Egg with Maggi Sauce, and Kant. Delicious as always but I could go for a plate of ham and eggs, black coffee and a chocolate donut. This would put me out by a light by mid=morning since one of the (very limited) side-effects of Taxotere chemo is sleepiness, and I am having that side-effect already. Fatty and sugary food would worsen it.

The Transcendental Deduction of the Categories in Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason sucks! It’s almost but not quite incomprehensible even on this second read thru. Basically, Kant is doing a very restricted kind of ontology. He’s saying that as a minimal precondition for our ability to sense the outside world and understand it, our minds (not our brains) must consist of a Self (an Atman or Thou Art That in Hindu philosophy), said Self implied by the fact that when we are “sensible” of an object (where “sensible” is Guyer-Wood’s translation of sinnlich) we have “apperception” that we are the sensor of the object.

This is to me a generalization of Descartes’ “cogito ergo sum”. Instead of “I think therefore I am”, it’s “I seem to be involuntarily sensible of a manifold of experiences when I open my eyes in the morning: the alarm clock, the lovely sound it makes when I smash it against the wall, a very long urination, coffee and so on: this implies a priori if synthetically that there is a sensor and the sensor is me.”

The presence of a Self is implied by these experiences whereas in dreams it is not, or not reliably. The presence of a (waking) Self is synthetic a priori: it must be so, and it is a positive fact about my (waking) experience.

Adorno, might say that as in certain images by Magritte, the bourgeois isn’t comfortable with the idea of a sensible experience as in a dream but without a “sensor” (my own term of art corresponding to Descartes’ thinker and also, “knower”). As in the case of Charlie Chaplin in City Lights, the bourgeois, even down on his luck, wishes, like Charlie, to be able to look at a shop window (part of the “manifold”) without being molested by workmen, cops, or small boys.

Ulysses Grant, the ever-victorious American general who hated war and smoked “seegars”, contracted mouth cancer and felt great pain at the end of his life, as he struggled to complete his Memoirs in order that his widow Julia and children would have money on which to live: Grant said, if memory serves me, “I seem to be pain itself”.

I agree that this is thought at the end of its rope and as such it is almost total nonsense, but not quite. We cannot, it seems, use our minds, structured as they are, to look at our minds. But it’s useful to try to understand Kant at this deep level, for this gives us a better grasp on his better-known political, ethical and aesthetic sayings and texts:

Zum Ewigen Frieden (“On Eternal Peace”): the source (not Francis Fukuyama) of the claim that democratic or parliamentary nations don’t go to war with each other.

“So act that your action can be recommended as a general moral law” [“what if everybody did what you do?”]

“On the Sublime”, etc.

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2 Responses to “27 May 2013”

  1. I am interested to know why you say we “can’t use our minds to look at our minds?”

  2. spinoza1111 Says:

    We can do so in a superficial way but psychology just doesn’t get the results or rigor of physics (perhaps I over-esteem physics).

    Kant is trying to come up with a complete and always-true account of our minds (synthetic a priori). Psychologists instead characteristically make humble predictions and test them. This is an excellent procedure…in science. Philosophy uses different tools.

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