Skepticism is not a dead end but a portal that opens only to those who have laid down their hopes for truth, and picked up the hope for fiction.
Wait, let me first share something I wrote:
To reach the sought-for starting point, Neurath’s ship has to face its destiny in the storm of skepticism — its shipwrecked crew will drift ashore an unexpected land of fiction and speculation. Here they can regroup, build shipyards, and set up bases for new explorations, by land and by sea.
Ok, pardon that feeble attempt at being poetical. I’ll make up for it immediately by giving you this, the most satisfying passage I’ve read in a long time:
The Indians, in asserting the non-existence of every term in possible experience, not only free the spirit from idolatry, but free the realm of spirit (which is that of intuition) from limitation; because if nothing that appears exists, anything may appear without the labour and expense of existing; and fancy is invited to range innocently — fancies not murdering other fancies as an existence must murder other existences. While life lasts, the field is thus cleared for innocent poetry and infinite hypothesis, without suffering the judgement to be deceived nor the heart enslaved.
It is from George Santayana’s excellent book Scepticism and Animal Faith (p. 53).
Bonus quotes, added later:
[A] mind enlightened by scepticism and cured of noisy dogma, a mind discounting all reports, and free from all tormenting anxiety about its own fortunes or existence, finds in the wilderness of essence [-- equivalent to what I call "virtuality"] a very sweet and marvellous solitude. The ultimate reaches of doubt and renunciation open out for it, by an easy transition, into fields of endless variety and peace, as if through the gorges of death it had passed into a paradise where all things are crystallised into the image of themselves, and have lost their urgency and their venom. (p. 76)
All essences and combinations of essences are brother-shapes in an eternal landscape; and the more I range in that wilderness, the less reason I find for stopping at anything, or for following any particular path. Willingly or regretfully, if I wish to live, I must rouse myself from this open-eyed trance into which utter scepticism has thrown me. I must allow subterranean forces within me to burst forth and to shatter that vision. I must consent to be an animal or a child, and to chase the fragments as if they were things of moment. But which fragment, and rolling in what direction? I am resigned to being a dogmatist; but at what point shall my dogmatism begin, and by what first solicitation of nature? [...] (p. 111)
I have abandoned the project to make decimal time systems, firstly because it is really impractical, and secondly because I’ve realized that a base-16 numeral system is preferable to base-10 anyway. But of course, I couldn’t quit altogether. Our conventional systems are so frustratingly bad, I had to at least try to make them more intelligible. Here are my suggestions for new ways to present our conventional time systems; one for the clock, one for the calendar, and one for a full lifetime (100 years). The idea is that a new way of presenting these things will enable us to relate to time in an easier and more intuitive way. For me at least, they do the trick.
I’ve introduced my idea for the “clock” before, but for the occasion I have made a more presentable image file. To repeat what the idea behind it is: to include only the 16 waking hours, and split these up in four groups of four hours each. Why four? Because this number is so eminently intelligible.
The following is my new suggestion for how to reorganize the calendar. It was made with the OpenOffice equivalent of Excel (here’s the file, in .pdf and .xls format). As you can see, I have split the year in four seasons with an equal number of complete weeks. This way, it is not strictly adjusted to any definition of New Year, but starts, loosely, somewhere near the winter solstice. Also, a day or two will be left out of the overview of any one year, but this is of lesser importance, as the calendar is optimized just for ease of comprehension.
And finally, my suggestion for how to present the time available to one in one’s entire life. Plotted below is my own life (descriptions in Norwegian). It was quite powerful for me to see my whole life laid out like this. That might be partly because I have a poor memory, but I think a diagram such as this provides a perspective that would be useful even to people with excellent memory. On the one hand perspective on how long life really is, on the other, how significant every single season is.
The two quarter-circles on the outside of the life-circle represents the two seasons on the cold side of the equinoxes, and vice versa with the inner quarter-circles. My life began in the spring of 1983, and the chart ends 100 years after that. Click the image for a larger version.
I have taped the calendar and the lifetime overview on my door, so I see them several times a day. And I have printed out a few copies of the week overview, with the intention of testing it out over the coming weeks as a tool to help me make better use of my time. Already the comprehension of time is motivating. I have a feeling this method will work better than have some previous approaches of mine.
One last thing: An list view of how the decimal time project developed. This is provided primarily to get trackback links to here in reply to each of these posts.
- Version 1 (in Norwegian)
- Helpful tables for version 1 (in Norwegian)
- Version 1.5 (from now on, all versions are in English)
- Version 2
- Helpful tables for version 2
- Version 3 (an outline)
Imagine an ideal world. Or a personal dystopia of some kind. Or just some random imagined place or situation. You probably have no problem whatsoever conjuring up at least the vague beginnings of such worlds in your imagination, and given some time, you’ll probably be able to elaborate quite a lot on them, without any further guidelines. Now, here’s a question I’d like you to think about: What is the relation between your imagined worlds and the real world? It’s an awkward question, and I guess you are at a loss for how to deal with it properly. Perhaps your most immediate response would be to start looking for similarities and differences, something which would result in a list of realistic and unrealistic properties of the imagined worlds. But this isn’t the kind of relation I’d like to have established, as you probably suspect. The question is ontological. What I want to know, to be specific, is what kind of world the real world is, what kind of world an imagined one is, and whether or not the latter can be reduced to the former.
We could take a reductionist approach: What are the respective worlds made of?
Reality, at least as far as science have been able to discover so far, is made of leptons, quarks and bosons with completely incomprehensible properties. Space and time is somehow interconnected, and there might be quite a few additional dimensions to the four we actually (if indirectly) do perceive. It’s an exceedingly strange world, far bigger, older and more complicated than any pre-scientific thinkers dared to suggest.
I think imaginary worlds can be separated into components as well, but doing this requires some care to avoid having one’s imagination start detailing further as one investigates. Take an imagined tree for instance: One might not originally have given the color and texture of the tree beneath the bark any thought. Therefore, filling this in would be tampering with the subject matter under investigation. A better approach would be to label the insides of the tree as “undefined”. Only the appearance of the tree was originally rendered, and this “skin” we might do well to define as one of the separate components we were looking for. Other components might include individual leaves or branches, if the level of detail in the imagined scene is sufficiently high. If not, the tree crown might be found to be defined in imagination as a whole. As a general principle, the imagined world is optimized for fast rendering in the mind, not for accurate modelling of whatever elements of reality it happens to imitate.
In one sense, it does seem perfectly plausible that the latter kind of world is reducible to the real world, as the organs presumably responsible for creating mentality are made of real stuff, with no supernatural components. A perfect theory should be able to account not only for the normal stuff of physics like matter and electricity etc., but even the far more elusive nature of mind. Thus, it seems very plausible to declare that the ontological domain of reality includes that of imaginary worlds.
But in another sense, the only reality we have access to — the one described above — is but a set of accepted beliefs rendered in mind. True reality is not to be equated with what in fact is merely a set of beliefs, even when these beliefs are perfectly reasonable and confirmed by all currently available empirical evidence. If we truly believe that mind is created somehow by computational activity of leptons, quarks and bosons (or whatever), we have to admit that the reality we can perceive, think about and talk about must be on the same level of ontological status as completely fictional, imaginary worlds. That the latter is not encompassed by the former, but that they are both encompassed by the ontological domain of an unknown true reality beyond the reach of mind.
We mistake our beliefs for reality all the time. In fact, that is essential for how our minds work, because our brains have limited resources and have to optimize for the greatest possible efficiency in the tasks we set ourselves to. So the illusion is our friend, as it saves us a lot of headache in most practical areas. But in certain theoretical areas, philosophy prominently among them, it is an obstacle we have to be very aware of. Philosophers should strive to become thoroughly acquainted with the reality illusion, to master it in the sense of being able to brake or restore it at will, as per required by practical and theoretical circumstances encountered. And what’s more, they should come up with theoretical accounts of mind and reality that can make sense of this aspect of our human situation.
This, I think, is what should be the defining role of philosophy.