Sunday, August 14, 2011

What Do We Know of the World?

"What do we know of the world?"
This is a question that one of the characters asks in the book that I am reading, "The Elegance of the Hedgehog", by Muriel Barbery. It is supposed to be a question that has been occupying philosophers for generations if not hundreds of years. Even as philosophers view this question, they also have argued on how to address it: Can one answer it from one's own experience or can you use information outside this experience?

I remember as a child realizing that I was a unique being, that I was an 'I', and that there was a world outside of myself. I even remember walking on a small sidewalk in Linda Vista in a housing project that no longer exists. I don't remember my age except that I was under the age of nine. I have heard of other people making this same discovery.

As for the world, I just knew I wanted to escape the family of origin that I was in and live by myself and have control over my life. My parents were desperately unhappy and believed in spreading that unhappiness onto their children. Luckily, I had a great big make-believe world that I created aided by books. I stayed in this world for long periods of time. Maybe that is why I never really went into the problem of what is the outside world. I was too comfortable in my own one.

The character who brought up the subject in the book that I am reading described some of the philosophers and read their works looking for the answers. I knew of some of them from my own reading but I was never much of a reader of philosophers. The only reading that I did was in my education at the university and as it pertained to the evolution of how humankind viewed science. I was more interested in literature,poetry and history.

I mentioned in earlier blogs the book that I am reading and the one that I mentioned here has gotten me thinking about different subjects. Occasionally, I read into the science of Physics since it is part of my reading of the changes of how people view the world. I have been reading about the String Theory and find it fascinating especially the part of the different dimensions. I have always felt that time does not exist the way we as human beings think it does and that is why I have read different ideas in Physics since it is a science that deals with time among other things.

I have also wondered how real the world is in the first place. I read in other religions and Eastern thought as well. It is fun for me but I know if I did not turn the wheel of my car when I come to a curve in the road, I would hit the wall and really feel it. Speculation is what you do when you are sitting in a comfortable chair sipping coffee or tea in one's living room.

When I am visiting my grandchildren, I never consider the world not real for I love my grandchildren very much and they are very real to me. It is all relative. Maybe that is why there are so few women philosophers, mostly men in the field. Love and affection for our family and friends have a way of overshadowing everything. I am very much a loner, but I love some people very much. They don't have to be relatives either. There are some friends who I love and will always love even when they pass away. They are very real to me.

What do I know of the world? Not much. I have never been interested in grand conspiracies that some have spent a great deal of time and money on. I worked for the government for years and learned that the right hand usually did not know what the left hand was doing. I just can't imagine any organized human activity that would perform the sort of thing as direct certain crimes although I can see corporations doing all sorts of things to make sure they turn a profit. I can see culture as having a superego as one anthropologist speculated once years ago (Krober) so a certain set of beliefs would live beyond the life time of its members. People often adopted these set of beliefs without conscious thinking so it would live in the minds of people in the form of archetypes (C.G. Jung). These things still change but slowly as people become aware of these things.

To become more understanding of who we are and to question is the specialness of this book. We as human beings are, alone, capable of this and then to record those questions is truly wonderful. The character said of all of the philosophers who tried to answer the question, not one came up with an answer. It was the asking that was important. I am sorry to say I did not ask all that much, myself. I just asked, "who am I?" I answered similar to Descartes, "I am, therefore I exist." I thought that was enough. Evidently, I did not go far enough. How interesting to speculate further. I think Barbery is a very good philosopher for she encourages the asking.

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