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Outside The Machine

Waxing Philosophical

By: Stephen Rifkin - 09/03/2014


Dear David,

If you've read C.P. Snow, or your neurons have read him, then you, or they, should know that the author’s real subject is loneliness. It underlies relationships and is the address at which we live. The two camps, science and the humanities-- the one with a low comfort level for the zeitgeist, and the other given prizes-- are only Snow’s apparent distinctions. The observing sensibility is where the interest lies, the one of the artist, and in this case, the writer. But anyway, were the others-- the characters in either of the two cultures-- to think they were not themselves but occupied, or beings led by chance, fate, or hostile or indifferent neurons, we would have no novel, no art, and no understanding. Alienation is the subject, and pained awareness. They seem intrinsic to modern humans. If they seem less in the camp of science, that is because scientists are driven by goals the institution, or the sate, values, and on which it bestows its greatest treasure and medals. But scientists, too, are human individuals.

There is a school in the novel called Naturalism, and under that outlook, characters are powerless and led to their fates by the cosmology of punishment and indifference. Novelists who practice art in that movement believe the universe is hostile and cold, and that humans have no means by which we may oppose it, or change our fate. A healthy stoicism would be, in that situation, or belief system, the supreme virtue.

That outlook resides not in a vision of the skull lit and agitated by neurons. And I’m sure that crossword puzzles figure not at all.

The great satirist Jonathan Swift, in "Gulliver's Travels," has a planet where scientists are trying to squeeze sunbeams out of cucumbers, or something like, perhaps to harness energy, or prove the existence of sunbeams, and that sounds to me like your current attempt to find the ghost in the machine, i.e., out of the soup of neuronic impulse to tease the dumpling self. 

The language of philosophy is not a dead language. And a pronoun is a pronoun.

What is the self? Who or what is the subject so invested in me? When I say, “I,” what do I mean? I think, I want, I’m hungry for fried green tomatoes, which by the way, I think I hate. Do I mean a neuronic construct, as some would say-- meaning, you? Of what use is it to substitute, my neurons think, my neurons want, my neurons are hungry, and to conclude that is my neurons who crave a burger, cole slaw and fries? Or to say that truth is the apparatus neurons light.

We have a subject. It is I. It is worthy by convention, it is seated in the psyche. It lies within the edifice of desire, and on the map of knowledge. It is of the most expressive construct humanity has, language.

Your pen pal,

Stephen Rifkin


Reader Comments
From "david zaig"
09-04-2014, 08:47 am
All these comments make me really sad. these comments do not address what I am talking about.
From "Stephen Rifkin"
09-03-2014, 07:20 pm
The machinery in which we find ourselves, in "Hamlet,"in which Hamlet reckons his father's ghost, and acts or fails to act, and in the course of which we stumble upon and find ourselves, is the Renaissance, and the sum of our humanity, as broached and conveyed by a great humanist and master. The machinery you posit in which we are to find ourselves is a scan, or a basketball video, or an economists TED talk. Current notions are current notions. They are notions, and current. They will be immediately supplanted. Time will do this. But your grandchildren's children will read "Hamlet." They will reckon their ghosts.
From "Stephen Rifkin"
09-03-2014, 05:42 pm
If each of us isn't unique, then what are we? And how can we forget poetry and creative endeavors and see what we can learn about human nature?
From "Stephen Rifkin"
09-03-2014, 04:10 pm
To learn who you are, look into the mirror. Look deep. Let your eyes dissolve, let them vanish, and you look into the road you have traveled, and upon the trees and woods lining them, and past the landscapes and seascapes that take you to their heart and upon their coasts. Listen to the wind, listen to your heart, feel yourself born.
From "Jane Hudson"
09-03-2014, 01:26 pm
Well, well, is this an Apollonian/Dionysian rift? Or should I say riff!
From "david zaig"
09-03-2014, 01:03 pm
srephen rifkin says:rn"We have a subject. It is I. It is worthy by convention, it is seated in the psyche. It lies within the edifice of desire, and on the map of knowledge. It is of the most expressive construct humanity has, language."rnDavid Zaig's answer:rnHere is an example of Stephen's belief: " It lies within the edifice of desire" . Maybe Stephen knows where his "edifice of desire" lies. I don't think he will find it any time soon, unless he unconsciously desire to fool himself and everyone else.rnrnrnrnrn
From "Stephen Rifkin"
09-03-2014, 12:00 pm
"There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy." Is that what your two experts try to say, David? Or have they quantified sunbeams? Your claims for them are naive, I think.
From "David Zaig"
09-03-2014, 11:44 am
answer to stephen rifkin:rn"what I am talking about is human nature, social behaviour, and your 1000 years old ideas. I am not talking about neurons, C.P. Snow, or your fear of losing some beliefs that your personality depends on. The video in my article are part of an ongoing research by people who care to learn about who we are. This experiments just show us that we have built in habits that we are not aware of. And this lack of awareness affects our behavior (imagine your child's teacher that has no idea of what is going on in the area of child psychology) Now what I like to know is what do you think about these experiments, and about Daniel Kahneman's book. You tend to pick on erelevant words, easy prey. Let's forget for a moment poetry and any other creative endeavor, and see what we can learn about human nature. I think learning about who we are will make us more creative and more innovative. and less of an imitator. Otherwise we shall be stuck to an archaic world, just like the Taliban and other extremists elements of all societies. The biggest misconception is that each of us have, as individuals and as part of a group, is that we are unique."
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