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How Philosophy Altered My Life

An exploration of philosophical thinking.

We’re All Philosophers

It’s said that each of us is born a scientist. I believe we’re also born philosophers.

Call it a burden, call it a boon, I cannot help but reach deeply into charged existential dilemmas and dreams. I also doubt you can help it. Humanity is plagued by its blessed brain.

Though my choice of learning about the world lies in the scientific method, philosophy, like science, can be thought of us a tool; a Hedonist uses a hammer, an Ascetic their hand, but deconstruction of knowledge into parts both understandable and manageable for the human mind is the goal.

Unlike science, however, philosophy bleeds through many ideological boundaries, some of which scientists refuse to touch. Whether they refuse on a social or epistemic (i.e., knowledge-based) basis will depend. In other words, we can ask, will they be castigated by their peers for the pursuit of a charged question, or realize that technological limitations bar its comprehension until a far future arrives?

In the meantime, I continue to enjoy the hybridization of science and philosophy, realizing that its separation to begin with is absurd, as early philosophy underpins and still informs much of what science is today; this we cannot forget.

The explanatory gaps of science — in which ultimately the absence of data sits unsettled — is where questions compile and where the philosophers flock. One of my favorites among them is, “what the hell is consciousness, anyway?” It differs from the answered question, “what is gravity?”, because consciousness as it relates to the physical brain continues to mask its mechanism, so that we appear to be far from explaining the mind. The issue of the involved complexity is beyond the scope of this little frolic into philosophy, so I’ll leave it there for now.

You and I are thinking machines — well, more accurately we’re thinking animals, and we’re at once the most rational thinking beings and the most emotionally subjugated.

Whatever we are, and however we define philosophy, one thing is sure: we would — without thought — divebomb into waters of wisdom, and emerge either dry and dumbfounded by the overwhelming distillation or wet and wizened by the sunken omniscience. If only it were so easy.

What the Hell is It?

Though there are seemingly thousands of definitions of “philosophy,” I’ll stick with simplicity and cite one given by Merriam-Webster, which says that philosophy is “pursuit of wisdom,” which makes sense: the Latin roots juxtaposed are literally “love” and “wisdom,” so that a philosopher is a “lover of wisdom.”

This is an adequate definitional guideline, as everybody’s understanding of wisdom will differ, but the drive to get “it” will never wane. I’m choosing to operate under these assumptions for now.

If you insist on being overwhelmed by definitions, here ya go:

Very few characterizations of philosophy can beat Bertrand Russell’s extensive musings about its importance and value in The Problems of Philosophy — a great book, by the way, for those interested in a general grassroots overview of some of the most serious philosophical schools. He says:

The value of philosophy is, in fact, to be sought largely in its very uncertainty. The man who has no tincture of philosophy goes through life imprisoned in the prejudices derived from common sense, from the habitual beliefs of his age or his nation, and from convictions which have grown up in his mind without the co-operation or consent of his deliberate reason.

It’s the ubiquitous uncertainty of reality that drives us to ask the most fundamental questions; and when we do we subject ourselves to a radical self-assessment (or reassessment) and new appreciation of others. I love that there is still more to learn, more gaps to be filled (keep your mind on philosophy). I love that science may prove a tool too dull to chisel away at the Hard Problem, for example. I love that there is much we can’t yet know. I hate not knowing.

The paradoxes that philosophy reveals and the comfortable discomfort draw me ever closer to it — and how absurd it is. But let our friend Bertrand Russell respond:

This seems plainly absurd; but whoever wishes to become a philosopher must learn not to be frightened by absurdities.

While I’ve learned to think in new ways, I’ve also haphazardly thought in odd ways, as revelations about randomness or careful cosmic considerations push into my head ideas that make me at once sick and sane. Yet I derive great pleasure from this pursuit of wisdom. Absurd.

Philosophy altered my life by providing a multitude of perspectives, and from each I was granted a view that made previous vistas rematerialize anew — though it wasn’t always easy, it was worth it (I think the somewhat influential philosopher — Jesus — says something similar).

Philosophy is a tool that, if used earnestly, could dismantle many common assumptions about your life that you’ve taken for granted — but you’ll find that the grindstone feels great. I love philosophy. I love learning how little I’ve learned. Absurdity.

References

Russell, Bertrand. The Problems of Philosophy [with Biographical Introduction] (p. 113). Neeland Media LLC. Kindle Edition.

Russell, Bertrand. The Problems of Philosophy [with Biographical Introduction] (p. 11). Neeland Media LLC. Kindle Edition.

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Dalton Orvis

Dalton Orvis

Writer of the random, lifelong learner and thinker of things, gamer, scientist, humanist.