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What Is The Horror of Philosophy?

The Deterioration of Mind Over Matter by Otto Rapp

When humanity first began to really consider the nature of reality, it was not without fear. As humans progress beyond our primitive state, we encounter new questions and concerns. How can I find out the truth? What causes things to happen the way they do? Does life have meaning? And what does all of this mean for me?

Humans have always found it difficult to accept the answers to these questions. We desire answers that make us feel good, so we look for them outside of ourselves. We desire other people’s love and affection, external sources of information, and the promise of better things to come. When we fail to locate these things in the places we go for them, it occurs to us that we may need to look within ourselves for the answers to these questions.

But what do we see when we shift our gaze inward? What do we discover when we examine ourselves? Aren’t we all collections of fear, anxiety, and dissatisfaction? Yes, we are. And why is this the case?
The answer rests in our awareness of our own mortality. We are locked inside a body that is doomed to decay, illness, injury, and death. And this physical confinement, in turn, deepens our sense of confinement within the limits of an unloving, pointless, and cruel universe.

The origins of philosophy can be traced back to an attempt to deal with the issues of life, love, death, and the meaning of life. It is hardly surprising, then, that philosophy has failed to grapple with the horror and negativity inherent in the human experience. This horror is something we try to avoid at all costs, but it always threatens to overwhelm us and destroy our delicate sense of ourselves.

Despite this, humanity has made considerable progress in combating these tendencies toward pessimism and negation. Our proclivity for optimism is part of what makes us human, and there is nothing wrong with having a positive attitude on life. But it is also necessary to take a serious and honest look at the human predicament, for to do otherwise is to compromise intellectual integrity for the sake of one’s own comfort.

Eugene Thacker has made an effort in recent years to introduce the concept of horror into the realm of philosophy. In his book “In the Dust of This Planet,” he explains that philosophy has for far too long focused on the dualistic split between the world we experience and the reality that actually exists. This leaves no opportunity for subjects outside of this framework, such as the supernatural or, more intriguingly in this case, the horror genre.

Philosophical texts, according to Thacker, should be read in the same manner as horror stories are. “Both genres confront us with our understanding’s boundaries and the gloom of our world.” This is because both horror stories and philosophical works challenge our worldviews and drive us to think about things in ways we have never thought about before.

In this essay, I’d like to expand on Thacker’s ideas and argue for the value and profundity of horror in the world of philosophy.

Introducing Horror to Philosophy

HP Lovecraft created his now-famous horror stories at the turn of the twentieth century, against a backdrop of fast cultural, technological, and scientific progress. As our knowledge grew, we became more aware that the world was a darker and more chaotic place than we had previously imagined.

Lovecraft’s stories frequently illustrate the conflict between man and the unknown. In his literature, the unknown is frequently depicted by the vast chaos of cosmic creatures so massive and strong that they may gaze down on humanity and have complete influence over it.

The idea that man is insignificant is the most important narrative device at work in Lovecraft’s writing. In his writings, as in real life, man struggles against a force he does not understand and cannot protect himself against. The human characters in his works, like the reader, are compelled to confront a harsh reality: man is impotent and weak.

He wrote:

“The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.”

This is philosophy’s horror. It is the belief that when we think about things beyond what we already know and comprehend, we discover how little we know and how weak we truly are. These notions are frequently too much for us to bear, and Lovecraft’s writings are often a mirror of his own difficulties with them. We can claim that his attempts to cope with the horror of philosophy drove him to write in this manner.

In many respects, we might interpret this as a peek into Lovecraft’s psyche. He was striving to make sense of the world around him, which was chaotic and terrible. It’s no wonder, however, that many of his protagonists are lonely academics. The most common are the mad scientist, the aged wizard, and the crippled genius.

Philosophy’s horror is not limited to insane scientists, deranged wizards, and paralysed geniuses. Every one of us will face the horror of philosophy at some point in our lives. We’re really uncomfortable with the world we’re in and how little we comprehend it.

For some, the horror is so overwhelming that they would rather ignore it and fill the hole with religion or delusions. In his essay “The Myth of Sisyphus,” Albert Camus argues that the absurdity of life leads us to either commit suicide or embrace the ludicrous. He also established the concept of “philosophical suicide,” which is an escape from unpleasant realities via delusions. Whether you believe in religion or not, it’s apparent that many individuals find comfort in such fantasies. Religion, nationalism, and fantasies of individual superiority are all examples of such delusions. These delusions frequently help people to go about their daily lives without having to confront the horror of their situation. But the horror doesn’t stop there.

Philosophy has always battled with how to deal with our own mortality, finitude, and meaning in life. We all know we’re going to die someday, therefore mortality is self-explanatory. The problem of finitude, on the other hand, is more complex, and it is tied to our incapacity to see the big picture. When we examine our lives from beginning to end, we have the clear impression that this “narrative” does not justify everything that has happened before or after it. In other words, it is our perception that all events preceding and following our lives are unimportant to us. Even if we have some control over some of the meaning and purpose, we do not have complete control over it.

We hate the idea of being meaningless. Unfortunately, philosophy forces us consider this harsh reality. Returning to Thacker’s philosophical definition of “horror,” this horror is our fear and anxiety in the face of having so little control over our life, as well as our fear of nothing actually mattering. This is not the same as being sad (though it often is intertwined with that as well).

Scary creatures and ghosts are commonly assumed to be the domain of horror. Some may argue that these are not the “true” horrors. These are essentially tactics that threaten the characters in the novel so that we, the readers, can feel and overcome our own fears vicariously.

Bringing horror into philosophy is attempting to understand the fundamental worries that beset humanity. These are not usually the horrible abominations that threaten our existence, but rather life’s fears and even certainties. There are many unknowns in life, many of which we cannot properly prepare for. Death, on the other hand, is a certainty in our lives.

A discussion of horror would be incomplete if it did not include the fear of death.

In the Midst of Death, Art as Usual?

The horror of dying is an odd and confusing one. On the one hand, it appears that nothing could be more scary, as it strikes at the core of our being. The fear of dying (known as thanatophobia) is believed to be one of the most fundamental anxieties in mankind. Perhaps this is why we are so captivated with death and its myths. This issue has been explored in numerous books, films, and works of art. We have created rituals and faiths to assist us cope with this unavoidable fact.

It is possible to argue that the mortality of art defines it. This is due to the fact that art (as we know it) is a creation of the human intellect, and all humans must die. Some artists’ works may survive their creators, but not all of them. Art, on the other hand, has the potential to make us feel emotions and see things that we would not be able to see otherwise. So, in certain ways, art can bring a kind of immortality.

So, is it correct to call art “mortal”? This definition appears to be a little off. ‘Fleeting’ could be a better term to describe it. Or even ‘transient’. Another perspective is that, despite (or maybe because of) its death, art can bring us to new understandings of ourselves and the world around us. Camus explains in his article “Create Dangerously” that creative freedom can even help us conquer our dread of death.

Maybe it is only a (bitter) reward for consolation. Art does not keep us alive. But, in a strange way, it protects us from giving up when we do. Bringing horror into philosophy means attempting to comprehend the terror of one’s own existence. Attempting to let the audience experience what the creator feels by incorporating horror into art.

The horror of philosophy is that whatever the solution to the ‘important’ life issues, we won’t like it. Knowing the truth may very well ruin us. The horror of art is that, while it can reveal these terrible truths to us, it cannot shield us from their consequences. Even if we like dark or tragic art, it does not change the reality that the storey will have a terrible finish.

We are in the midst of life, and in the midst of death, we continue to create, continue, and act. Why? One must continue to live and create, even while one recognises the horror and pointlessness of life, says Camus. What are we without life, without production, without an effort to achieve something? That wraps up the spiral: In order to live, one must create, and in order to create, one must live.

Beyond art and philosophy, there is something much more powerful: us, who write, read, create, and share our human experiences. Though life may appear pointless at times and death imminent, we can never completely know. Nietzsche once claimed that staring into the abyss for too long will only force the abyss to stare back. Perhaps it is time to stop staring and start living. This is the objective of art: to join the act of living through our creations.

But, if we must create in order to live, we must also live in order to create. Throughout history, art and its creators have been influenced by their surroundings. During a period of conflict, for example, artists tend to create more gloomy works. Similarly, times of peace and prosperity tend to produce lighter works.

This is not a fluke. It is, in reality, due to one of the most fundamental tenets of human psychology: the link between cognition and emotion. HP Lovecraft’s works, for example, rely on the use of fear and panic to elicit a sense of horror in the reader. Other well-known authors, like as Edgar Allan Poe and Stephen King, employ a variety of emotions to achieve comparable effects.

Though these authors use a variety of emotions, the mental process is frequently the same: choose an emotion, then construct a circumstance that will elicit it. Plato claimed that poets tell lies but also speak the truth, and I think this is a good example of that.

Art and philosophy aren’t just things we make; they’re also a part of who we are. Though philosophy is derived from the brain, its message is conveyed through emotion. When we create, we also generate emotions, which are what we live and breathe every day.

This is why art and philosophy are so important: they teach us about what it is to be human. The horror of philosophy is realising that we must create in order to live. This is our curse, like Sisyphus forever pushing the boulder up the hill. The cure for this curse, however, can be found in our works. We live on through these works of art, and our legacies are shared and remembered through them.

And it leaves us pondering about the great unknown and the cold indifference of the Universe towards humanity.

The Universe is ‘Larger’ than Humanity

According to Islam, the universe will be ripped apart on the Day of Judgment. Space and time will cease to be. In the Quran, this is known as Qiyamah, and it will be the last day for mankind and the Earth. The images of this event are highly disturbing.

This is an intriguing concept for a number of reasons. To begin, it provides insight into the Islamic understanding of the end of the world. It does, however, pose some extremely interesting concerns about life and humanity’s position within it.

To begin with, it says that ‘space and time will cease to be’. Two things are implied by this remark. To begin with, it indicates that space and time are not permanent. That is, they lacked eternity within them. This would imply that the day, week, month, year, decade, and so on were all human constructs used to quantify a meaningful sequence of events.

This also implies that time and space are meaningless in the absence of events and their associated observations. If the former fails, so will the latter. Simply said, if there is no time, there is no room either.

Second, it declares that the cosmos will cease to exist. The universe is everything that exists or has ever existed. The assumption is that because the cosmos is everything and everything will cease to exist, everything must have been created.

Today, we may scoff at the notions of a “Judgement Day” and the “End of the World.” But consider this: the universe will one day come to an end.

Scientists agree that the cosmos has natural ends, whether owing to a Big Crunch (in which the entire universe collapses in on itself) or the inevitable heat death of the universe (in which all of the universe’s energy is depleted). There will come a time when there will be no more sunlight, grass, animals, humans, or you and me. Our place in the universe will become obsolete one day.

Nonetheless, we go about our lives as if the future is certain. We toil, labour, spend, and save as though there is no end in sight. We focus on the present and ignore the fact that time will one day stop and all of our efforts will be futile. So, what happens next?

The Day of Judgment in Islam holds that, on this particular day, the entire world will be annihilated. Every kind of life and existence will come to a standstill. What happens next is a matter of faith.

Those who take the time to think about life and the world around them frequently ask questions about the vastness of the Universe and the infinitesimal smallness of the human being. The spectre of death has long tormented the human heart, and for good cause. Our bodies will eventually decompose and perish. Our cells will no longer regenerate, our bones will deteriorate inside our bodies, and our brain cells will no longer function.

Our lives are frequently defined by the effort to persevere and thrive in a world that appears to be continually hostile to us.

In his essay ‘The Absurd,’ Thomas Nagel claims that’most people have an intuitive sense of what is referred to as “the absurdity of human existence.” This is the belief that life, and thus our own existence, is pointless and meaningless. We are born, live, and eventually die. The cycle continues indefinitely.

What’s unfortunate about our situation is that we all know it’s true on some level. We sense it in the very depths of our being. We have a sense that something is fundamentally wrong with our existence, but we lack the tools to describe or even appreciate its significance. What brings us here? What is our goal? Where are we headed, and what happens after we die?

These are the topics that philosophers and theologians around the world are grappling with.

The essay utilises the immensity of the universe to point out how small and insignificant we are.

He penned:

‘What we say to express the absurdity of our life frequently has to do with space or time: we are little specks in the immense vastness of the cosmos; our lives are just instants even on a geological time scale, let alone a cosmic time scale; we shall all die any minute.’ But, of course, none of these obvious truths can account for what makes existence absurd, if it is ludicrous at all. For if we lived forever, wouldn’t a life that is absurd after seventy years be eternally absurd after eternity? And, if our lives are ludicrous as they are, why would they be any less silly if we filled the universe (either because we were greater or because the cosmos was smaller)? Reflection on our minuteness and brevity appears to be intimately linked with the idea that life is pointless; nevertheless, the connection is unclear.”

Life’s horror is not that of creatures or criminals, darkness or death. It’s even less about the things we can’t see or understand. The horror of life is our own horror. Our very existence is a horror. The horror is our awareness. The fact that we are still alive and able to contemplate the absurdity of our situation. We can never be entirely at ease with our surroundings unless we lose consciousness of them. We are reminded of our existence the moment we awaken from a deep slumber.

This horror pervades every fibre of human nature. We construct jails, asylums, and hospitals to contain the unavoidable symptoms of awareness: depression, anxiety, and self-harm. We construct entertainment and activities to divert our attention away from the agony of “being alive.” We spend our days doing worthless things like watching television, scrolling through social media, reading books and magazines, going to work, and spending time with friends and family. All of this is done in an attempt to avoid the horror that is consciousness. Moments of insight and self-realization can break the illusion.

Our lives are nothing more than a perpetual fight to sustain the reassuring illusion that we are not merely biological machines regulated by our DNA and controlled by natural laws. We are at the mercy of forces considerably greater than ourselves. We are nothing but little players in an immense and unavoidable reality. This misery that we’re feeling is the product of reality bursting into our created illusions. The hurt comes when we are faced with the cold truth that we are only human and are here to stay. We are afraid to wakes up each morning because this horrible realisation we do not want again to experience.

We both endure extreme agony, yet we also manage to find immense ambition because of it. This anguish motivates us to fight, create, love, and explore. It motivates us to rise above our circumstances and pursue our humanity. So, what exactly is it? Is life a cruel joke or a lovely dream? Is the agony of consciousness worth the gift of consciousness? Is life only a game or a challenge?

Ultimately, the decision is yours.

So, what exactly is the horror of philosophy? The horror of philosophy is the disillusionment caused by becoming conscious of our predicament. It is the shattering of our most fundamental beliefs and values. It is everything we like to pretend isn’t true. It is a violation of our desires. It is the disintegration of our concepts. It’s death, decay, and lack.

The horror of philosophy is not the philosophy of horror; it is not something to be gawked at or mocked. It’s not something we can get away from. It’s not a monster in the closet or a ghost in the attic. The horror of philosophy is our unavoidable and permanent reality. The horror of philosophy is not derived from entities that “go bump in the night.” Philosophy’s horror stems from a very real source: our minds.

We enjoy acting as though our values and principles are concrete. When we think about the world, we imagine that it is going to remain the same forever. The horror of philosophy, on the other hand, is exactly the reverse. It is the knowledge that our reality is in no way stable. Our ideas are fluid and subject to alter at any time. The world is made up of a wide range of greys, rather than of just black and white. There is no simple right or wrong, good or evil, just different points of view. Our values can and will be questioned at any moment, by anybody, and from any location.

And this is a never-ending process. You can’t possibly know everything. You can be the most brilliant and well-educated person in the world, yet you will always be wrong on something. The facts and information we have are not something we can collect, like getting fruit from a tree; our collective understanding constantly evolves. This development is crucial to our human character. Our cosmic search for expansion is in our blood; it’s part of what makes us human, along with passion, love, hatred, and everything else that motivates us.

The horror of philosophy is the disillusionment that comes with the practise, as well as the resulting realignment of our thoughts. The anguish we feel as a result of this process can be overpowering. After all, our opinions shape who we are. We want to think of ourselves as being correct.

To assume otherwise is to conclude that we are completely wrong about everything, which is disastrous. It is harmful to our brain to think in this manner. It goes against all we believe in. We feel exposed and naked in the face of the elements. We feel little, helpless, and vulnerable, much like a toddler. And it is at this point that we comprehend the severity of our situation: we are imperfect humans in a large cosmos whose ultimate nature we do not understand.

What are we to do in the face of such ambiguity?

Finally, I would finish by emphasising that a man’s nature is to desire what he does not have and to disregard what he already has. Our universe is continuously evolving, and we, as humans, must as well. This train of thought leads to the obvious conclusion that we should never be pleased with our current beliefs. We must constantly re-evaluate them and ask if they are still true in light of new evidence or new arguments advanced by others.

The terror that comes with this awareness is the horror of philosophy. The fear that everything you know and love is in jeopardy. That there is no such thing as solid ground. But, if we allow it to galvanise us into action, this horror can propel us to greatness.

It can compel us to ask more probing questions and expect more of ourselves. It can compel us to engage not merely with other people’s ideas, but with their fundamental being. Finally, we learn about ourselves by interacting with the beings we care about.

But none of this is possible if we allow the horror to paralyse us. Those who are rendered immobile by the horror will be washed away by the waves of time, like sandcastles in the wake of an unstoppable tsunami. Those who aren’t will discover that the coast is close ahead, and that they can build nicely there.

The choice is ours, as it has always been.

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Fayyadh Jaafar

Fayyadh Jaafar

Business writer at The Malaysian Reserve. I write other things here too, you know.

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