The Luck of Interest

If you write a book, you have to be that book. Your time must become the time of the book. If you engage in public discussion on social media, the world (the others) will always be a step ahead of you. Only the latest analysis and verdict are worth mentioning – everything else is irrelevant, a mere object of the ongoing public debate that relentlessly pushes forward.

With a nod to Albert Camus, the mere act of halting the frenzy of evaluations in order to formulate your own narrative is an act of rebellion. If you are utterly unafraid of being ‘irrelevant’ tomorrow, it means that you have found a genuine interest.

In a world where social media companies are designed to optimize both advertising income and data extraction, their algorithms make sure that we spend as much time online as possible. And since cat photos are unlikely to engage a user’s soul, they reward controversy and political outrage.

 

What the bleep do we want?

Subjected to a deluge of information, knowing what you are really interested in is more important than ever. It depends not only on education, but on luck. If you were lucky enough to find out in your childhood what you are really interested in, you will find it much easier in later life to focus on that subject and avoid distraction. This has always been the case, from the Wright brothers’ fascination with flying to Thomas Aquinas’ fascination with harmonizing the Bible with Aristotle to Claude Monet’s fascination with color. Is it any different in the age of distraction? Should we be more thankful if a genuine interest has befallen us in a time when nearly everybody is wearing a distraction apparatus in his or her pocket? Are people less likely to develop an undiluted interest for something under the new predicament?

A genuine interest is the attempt of our subconscious mind to experience this directedness without an intermediary.

We don’t consciously pick or choose our genuine interest, because, in the language of philosophy, it is logically older than our agency. The I is always-already directed towards the world before it becomes conscious of the fact. Genuine interest is the attempt of our subconscious mind to experience this directedness without an intermediary. When we evaluate potential areas of interest in order to find our true calling, we are rationalizing. We try to find unassailable reasons that will convince ourselves that such and such must be our true interest, or even our calling, to use that unfashionable term.

 

How to not find your calling

This is how, at eighteen, I went about finding my calling. I visited a number of universities in the Low Countries and compiled precise reasons for studies like chemistry, architecture or molecular biology. The ones for computer science were the most compelling to my young and inexperienced mind. I would be able to employ my full creativity while making something useful and without the dependency on lengthy, boring, material processes. Obviously, the reason I had fabricated was bad propaganda and I fell out of love with IT soon after. With apologies for the hackneyed phrase, you don’t find an interest, it finds you. If it is a genuine interest, not pursuing it ought to be almost unbearable. This, at least, is what many artists, scholars and scientists alike have always attested.

Back then, in 1998, there were some distractions (notably the television), but nothing like what we have today. It must have been enough to shut down the voice of my subconscious announcing what “I” (what was in the process of becoming that I) ‘really’ wanted.

Here is what I am worried about. If young children are bombarded with information, how can they choose? How can they develop a strong interest for one thing if, as soon as learning about it presents the slightest challenge, a plethora of other things is literally at their fingertips? How can they really learn how to concentrate on something, if distraction is more profitable for the advertisement machine that orchestrates the flow of information they can access?

Children need strong key experiences that are not fragments on a social media timeline they glint at in passing, scanning if it is something their in-group thinks they must know. Experiences that make an impression on their souls because they can’t be scrolled down or swiped out of sight. Experiences that have a sense of inevitability, that don’t have alternatives, command our full attention and seem to give us a glimpse at the true nature of reality.

In the digital era, such strong experiences seem to be as scarce as the simulacra or fake experiences you can purchase online. Because distraction has become the norm, it is more important than ever to realize how lucky we are if we find our real interest.

 

The Luck of Interest was originally published on Meandering home

The Fear to End all Fears

They are coming for me. To them, I will be bare matter, perhaps with the first signs of attempted self-organization. These signs are altogether boring and trivial because my mind – the official word for such attempted self-organization – is far inferior to them. To the purview of their intelligence, I am entirely predictable. There is no hiding in the innermost chamber of my mind. They are forever ahead of me and even my most intense and refined thoughts bores them to death.

The expansion of my Universe, that I had likened to boisterous, universal laughter, is a painful yawn.

I force myself to learn so that I can, for a little while, look more like the more intelligent beings that will supplant me. I must study data science, support vector machines, Fourier transformations, convoluted neural networks, microchip architecture, nuclear physics, advanced astronomy, deep learning algorithms, quantum computing. I have no interest in these things, I am just afraid.

I am afraid to be irrelevant. To whom? To whom? To society? To my parents? To my child? To myself? I don’t know. Is it the fear of death, the ultimate irrelevance of not-being? To death, everything is irrelevant, because he is the only persona in our comedy that doesn’t expire.

The perishability of all we love, including and especially those who strive to be the second-most fearsome authority after the Reaper himself, is a place to start. The secondary authorities that threaten us with irrelevance are so powerful because our own mind craves such intermediary forms – anything that can perturb our consciousness of death.

If we become aware of the fragility of all such authorities except the ultimate one, our fear becomes pure. All finite things become comic things. If we can reverse the mechanism of our fearful mind, the theoretical object of our fear becomes the uncontaminated, ultimate abstraction of not-being. Such fear, we argue against Heidegger, cannot be experienced. Anxiety (Angst) appears to lead us to our ‘true self’ because our mind constructs some finite authority and identifies with it (in the moment of anxiety, it is all there is) because it must experience something. We must understand that this is a false identification. The authority our mind constructs in a tour de force to ward off the specter of death is not who we are. I think it is a collage of all the fragments of authority we experienced earlier in life.

When we become aware of the strategy our mind strangely plays to avoid experiencing that which cannot be experienced, we may better understand our fear. Such insight cannot shut fear down, there always remains something Heidegger would call anxiety, but we don’t misunderstand it as the deepest revelation of our innermost being. We call it out for the complex trick of our very own mind that it is. We make are fear ‘pure’ by realizing that it never-yet (our answer to Heidegger’s always-already) actually is fearing the ultimate abstraction – death.

With no such supercilious – German – fear to ground the existentialist movement to overcome it, we don’t need to fear its most gruesome corollary, Nazism. Correcting Heidegger at this point liberates us from the undignified anthropology that tells us we can possess our ‘authentic selves’ with which we then ever so subtly must disqualify the Other.

What remains is the fear to end all fears. We experience it as a reflective fear: it knows it is not authentic. It is perhaps the epochè of the abstract foundational fear. It can at any moment burst out in boisterous, self-less, laughter. It is the inspired divination that our universe is entirely comical.

So we conclude our meditation on fear. We understand the mechanism of authority and why we must feel inferior. We understand the phenomenology of the fear to end all fears, and how it coincides with the last laugh.

 

 

 

The Fear to End all Fears was originally published on Meandering home

Professor Trompsky #3

Professor Trompsky, what do you think of the intellectual climate of today?

There is a worrying decline of what I call the culture of wisdom. More often than not, people engaging in debates are more concerned with cementing their own argumentation, making their own narrative waterproof as it were. Instead of trying to integrate the stories of their opponents in their own Grand Narrative, they readily dismiss them as fundamentally flawed. I miss the eagerness to achieve such inclusivity, the wonder of how an other thinking mind can draw sometimes totally different conclusions. This presuposses, I am well aware, a fundamental respect and we shall call it a belief in the intellectual capabilities of their opponents. Rather than treating them like an annoyance they want to get rid of, I miss the intellectual attitude that wishes to celebrate disagreement in order to proceed to a higher truth. Recently I wrote about this and produced the following formula. We should attempt to reduce a strange narrative we encounter to our own.

Don’t you think this is the faux nostalgia that comes with age? Was it not the case that intellectuals in the cold war era, dismissed each other for chosing the wrong side?

[chuckles] No, I can give you a concrete example. Take the political debate. If we talk about Venezuela, our initial response almost always reveals our political core belief. Media outlets who, under the influence of market pressure, tell you what you want to hear rather than what you need to know, amplify this phenomenon.

Professor Trompsky #3 was originally published on Meandering home