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What is Philosophy Cafe?

Jeff G
Ulrich
Oakland, CA
Post #: 96
Jeff G
Ulrich
Oakland, CA
Post #: 98
Here is a list of shortcuts to Afterwords for each theme (including the older "Last Words" which always began with a list of questions):

Education­
Measurement I-II-III
Thought Experiments
Mind Reading - Relating Truth and Tact
Habit
Retrospective
Gifts
Metamorphosis - Whatever Happened to Evil? - Metamorphosis Is Substitution
History­Life Itself - The Good Life - Real Life
Sportsmanship­ -- Grace­
The (History of the) Future
Nature­
Face­
Opposites­
Love­
Randomness­
Home­
Social Media
Conditions of Life
Humor­
Names­
Opportunities­
Place­
Memory
Wisdom­
Authenticity­
Entertainment­
Property­
Attraction­
Simplicity­
Creativity­
Modern Family
Sanctification­
Incentives­
Charity­
Apocalypse Now
Progress­
School­
Work­
Chicken-and-egg problems
Art­
Contentment­
Identity­
Marriage­
Play­
Empathy­
Know-How­
Privacy­
Hypocrisy­
Willpower­
Jeff G
Ulrich
Oakland, CA
Post #: 99
In other groups I participate in, there are assigned readings, and the meetings consist of people sharing what they consider to be highlights from, or their grievances with, the text.  To identify a highlight or grievance is always to bring out what one's understanding of the text is, and almost always to be excited to have found someone who thinks like oneself, or conversely, be alarmed at the possibility that the author disagrees with oneself.  (The few times one's own views are not compared with the author's seem to be when the highlight is an aesthetic one–"I love the way he said that"–and even then, that is rarely said about a passage whose content one disagrees with.)  

Making such a comparison seems to be automatic.  We choose texts to read based largely on our interests, expecting to fan the flames of our ardor with a topic.  When we select a text "against our grain," we look forward to a fight, to knocking down every point and feeling more secure in our views as a result.  If a group has selected the text, it becomes a prop in a complex game of negotiating the group's identity and one's own identity in it.  If we have decided to read "something random," it doesn't remain neutral for very long, as we instantly begin to form a judgment about it, beginning with the title, first sentence, paragraph, and chapter.

Yet that first sentence seldom addresses our interests that directly.  What happens when we can't make a judgment?  If we've trained our attention, we postpone our decision of what we think of it until we've completed the paragraph, or even the chapter.  Eventually, though, we come feel that we have to "reduce" what we've read into an opinion.  When we try do so we often realize that the last several pages we've "read" have not registered with us at all.  Our eyes were passing over the text, maybe our lips were even moving, but our minds were on bills or the dinner menu.  

What do we do then?  Maybe we go back and read it again, but we still don't "get it," so we press on and hope that it becomes clear in retrospect.  Often we do just what we do when we miss part of an oral conversation (where rewind is not an option):  we fill in the blanks ourselves, like a crossword puzzle, but much more easily, because the entire conversation and our environment serve as clues.  And sometimes we aren't aware of the hole at all, in the same way that even monocular vision fills in the hole in the visual field created by the exit of the optic nerve from the eye.  

Is this a cause for worry?  Not always.  We will note some odd fact from the presentation of the inscrutable part and raise alarm bells if it happens again.  In a conversation, of course, our partner may see our confusion, or it often becomes apparent to him later, and backtracking then addresses the comprehension deficit; in reading, we don't have that feedback loop, but we can create a different one by incorporating our "contribution" to the text into a paraphrase, then compare it to what we read before and after, simulating a "dialog" with the text. 

But if we're not even aware that we're missing anything, can anything be done?  Well, how would we see what's in our blind spot?  We'd have to focus on it–move our eyes so that what was previously a peripheral dead zone becomes the center of direct attention.  The method for insuring against missed textual data is basically the same:  concentrate on one suitably small portion of text at a time.  I rarely do this on the first reading, before I know whether the text is worth the effort to assure more thorough comprehension, but dedicating time to reflection can be an enjoyable contrast to the usual hurried skimming.  

Now merely "staring" at a sentence won't help-one must engage with the text in nearly the same manner as one would engage with a live partner.  Except in reading, the other partner keeps saying the same thing!  One must forgive the text its stubbornness:  if one's objective is to come to the author, rather than to make the author come to you, then this has to be the way.  The reader paraphrases the author, the author states himself again, the reader decides whether the author appears to be repeating the reader's paraphrase, rather than just himself.

Choosing to rewrite a text in this way is not only a way to create a very readable version-one using contemporary language and references, for example- but if one also makes the rewrites briefer than the text, it also sidesteps the problem of falling into mechanical repetition (which for a text would be recopying it).  [Yet...see the introductory entry to "The Decline of Pleasure, After Walter Kerr" for a fun take on this idea.]  The possibility of "condensing out" that which doesn't appeal to one's preferences can be mitigated by taking care not to skip more than a certain length of text, on the assumption that anything central to the author's message is not going to be crammed into a negligible space.  

These are the lengths it is necessary to go to in order to be reasonably sure that one has absorbed what is truly foreign in a text. Of course that may not be one's intent.  Yet even if one is seeking only to sharpen one's defense of existing positions, the best preparation is to sharpen one's recognition of the enemy-and we know the cleverest enemies present themselves as friends. To get inside their heads, you have to let them inside your own (just do it on your own terms).

Still, merely having decided to hear what the author has to say is not a guarantee of hearing him, because one's own voice is always overlaid upon the author's.  In another Trojan Horse move, one might even mimic the author's "voice," in an effort to have one's own content be mistaken as the author's.  As in all matters of self-deception, the pragmatic remedy is to enlist the aid of others.  The more readers that produce such a translation of the text, the more confirmation of its meaning can be secured. Or at least they will know where the contentious points lay. 
...
Jeff G
Ulrich
Oakland, CA
Post #: 100
Could a "reading by committee" actually succeed?  It sounds preposterous because philosophers, in particular, delight in disagreement.  But they also delight in new ideas, in the hope that one of them will add to their own firmament, perhaps completing a favored constellation.  As a democracy relies upon competing egos to cancel one another and reveal reason, as the scientific community requires independent confirmation of experiments, a group reading could diminish biases enough to allow the author's voice to predominate. 

And that, in a nutshell, is the best reason for read as a group:  to counteract the ego's necessity to see itself in everything, in order that we may access a greater joy, that of discovery.  The text provides a totem for ego suppression. Without it, we are guided only by our own desires.  Here is a good application of "sanctification" to our everyday lives:  by making the text above questioning, it can speak its truths to us. 

This is not to say we must never question the text. Obviously we are keen to criticize, debate, and adapt it for our purposes.  But I do feel the first portion of any meeting focused on a given reading should be to proceed through it systematically, to generate some consensus on its message. Not only is it fair to those who actually did the reading, but it encourages the rest to do the reading, and makes clearer to everybody, whether they read the text or not, what is summary and what is editorial. 

Now for the question all Philosophy Cafe members have been asking:  we don't have assigned readings, so what has this to do with us?  Simply this:  we ought to pay one another the same respect that we would the author of a text, suitably modified to the circumstances, of course.  Seek first to understand, then to be understood. 

Again, an air of sanctity may be required, for once someone ignores what the previous speaker said in favor of presenting their idea as the focus, a "mess" is created that invites more of the same. That is, it will require a seemingly excessive response to infractions, a too-rigorous formality, or something awkward.  It must be awkward, because its purpose is to defeat natural tendencies.  

It will be a long-term project to make our own contributions salient without getting terribly bogged down, so I offer no rules or edicts here.  Yet the success of any game change may ultimately depend on the players having the end in mind.  So now you know what's on mine. 

A Happy Year of New Thoughts to us all!
Jeff G
Ulrich
Oakland, CA
Post #: 114
In a blog devoted to something like lofty ideals for the group, what follows is likely to be viewed as trivially realistic. It looks backward at what has been done, trying to discern a pattern that can be improved, perhaps by being explicitly acknowledged. Maybe it's a sort of confession. Whatever.

For the first nine months of 2012, I was picking topics by intuition alone. Near as I could tell, I was trying to serve segments of the market, so to speak, roughly dividing them into male, female, and abstract points of view.

When we starting meeting biweekly, originally we started to alternate Mondays and Tuesdays, so I thought it would be good to have some tie between a month's Monday theme and it's Tuesday theme. Hence, Work (anchored by Labor Day) was followed by School.

Even though we abandoned the Monday meetings, we kept up the biweekly pace, and I endeavored to maintain the pairings. I'd been pining for Apocalypse Now (pinned to October by Halloween), so I searched for something to complement the dark mythological theme. Sure enough, in a Joseph Campbell study group, we were wondering what modern myths might have been recently recreated to make up for the ancient myths that were dying, and Progress leaped in to fill the void. Good myth/bad myth.

Then Charity (thanks to the holiday season, and related to a suggested topic) needed a partner. Somehow Incentives (a holdover from last year) seemed exactly right, but I didn't know why. Both of these meets were excellent generators of ideas and examples of sensitive interactions.

Sanctity and Modern Family were holiday-gathering-inspired themes that I thought would be nice to fit in during the "low season" for Meetups, but they were just as well attended as others. There was a comment that they seemed a little too similar, and I agree.

For a long time, I'd planned to use the new year to highlight Creativity, but with no good idea of its match. Somebody suggested Simplicity, and it clicked. Only later did I figure out why.

Next month (shhh, don't tell anybody) we will address Attraction (as in valentines), but what the heck goes with that? My first thought was Boredom, but that's really just the opposite, and opposites aren't usually all that different; besides negativity can be a turnoff, like Apocalypse was for some people. Last night I figured out Attraction's mate (though of course there's not only one answer), and thus the impulse to write all this.

The key elements were to discern the hidden relationship between Creativity and Simplicity, and that between Charity and Incentives. Well, I knew Creativity and Simplicity would be well-received by both genders because they really relate to individuals. These are abstract concepts humans might have developed even if we were not a social species (or at least that idea seems plausible). The relationship in focus is between man (or woman) and the physical world or world of ideas. We play with our blocks to gain some mastery over that world, before moving on to interpersonal relationships; later we fuss with set of equations, trying to remove as many ugly unknowns as possible, in a quest for elegance. Creativity included discussion about the desire to be original and fear of criticism as well, but the archetypal creativity of children is blessedly free of that. We touched on its spiritual aspect, which to me also has the feeling of interiority that marks it as a Universe-and-I theme.

Charity was a meeting that rather touched me with how intimately and respectfully we treated it, where in Incentives we spontaneously delved into emotionally-charged scenarios taken from cinema, and other meetings. What was going on? Writing two Last Words on Charity, the frame that made sense was the human dyad: two people, working with or against one another. Incentives, too, were personal: I want you to do something. The "need" for charity might be traced to a society that allows poverty, or incentives might be financed by the public treasury, but neither fact seems primary: these are about one person helping or manipulating another, teammates or rivals. I must admit, though, we weren't all that willing to "go there" as a group, preferring to figure out what society's judgment of our giving would be, or how to rate the material success of our ameliorative efforts; contests being a more natural frame of mind, Incentives was less self-conscious, though we did sometimes seek safe haven in incentivizing the self and institutional like taxes. These being situated at the pair bonding level makes them high-stakes themes addressing the Thou-and-I relationship with an Other (Mother being the first Other).

Myths, being stories that illustrate people's place and function in the community, relate to society in the large. It seems paradoxical at first glance, but our relationship with "everybody" is less touchy a subject than that with other individuals: "everybody" is really no one, an abstraction. Plus the "I" in a myth is really an archetype or role that is depersonalized, especially in the case of the sensational apocalyptic stories we attribute to other peoples in other times. The myth of Progress being contemporary and more personal, we claimed and defended (read: defined­) or attacked it as a bit of high ground in a culture war. Philosophy as a career really having come into being with the first nation-states, morality is its first home–an attempt to shore up the collectively-enforced rules of the tribe across larger social units. Thus it was less likely that we would venture to view the myths from the material standpoint, and quite unlikely that we would use the interpersonal view–though there were attempts! Thinking about Society-and-I themes accelerates rapidly in adolescence, probably not waning until middle age or later.

I suppose the Universe-and-I category corresponds to naturalistic philosophy, perhaps including epistemology, while Thou-and-I themes are the domain of ethical philosophy. I think it is worthwhile to rename them so as to emphasize that they are about our relationships with the world comprised of the Universe, Thou, and Society. As described above, each theme cuts across all three approaches even as its home base is in just one. We can see how we might have an individual preference to treat every relationships with just one of these frames.

I've experienced a strong temptation to write Society-and-Me instead of Society-and-I. The difference is worth exploring, but I'll pass on that right now. Nothing presented here is to be considered the final word on theme categorization.

There is more, though:-) ...
Jeff G
Ulrich
Oakland, CA
Post #: 115
... Each pair of themes (that successfully differentiated themselves) exhibits a conceptual pattern. Creativity is concerned with stuff appearing where there was nothing before, while Simplicity is about getting rid of stuff (that must have been redundant, if we could get rid of it, right?) Adding vs. subtracting, growing vs. shrinking, animate vs. inanimate bodies, creation vs. destruction. Need I say which one is the "masculine" theme? Charity, in its most original sense, is about giving that somehow enriches the giver, while the Incentives game lets the winner take all–minus whatever has been consumed in competition. Progress and Apocalypse have an obvious parallel with creation and destruction–except for Progress's detractors and Apocalypse's proponents, who view their standard façades as smokescreens for disenfranchisement and rebirth, respectively.

The creation/selection contrast (to substitute for destruction its somewhat more palatable evolutionary counterpart [note: there's a nice little essay in that!]) I suspect has profound metaphysical impact ramifications for our discussions. Of course, by alternating between them we distribute home-court advantage to masculine and feminine mindsets, but the issue is larger than discursive fairness. We can attempt to maintain a balance within each discussion, for example. The game of philosophy is pretty dull if all the action takes place away from the net, or on one side of the field. By developing our awareness in the moment of where we are pushing our play, we can keep the ball in the air and the other team in the game. Only then are we being challenged, be it to grow or to make decisions. As the creative/selective facet of our perspective on the World is the one bound up with Time, I will call it "prospective," or just the "prospect" of the theme. The creative prospect expects continuation and growth of that which brings the idea to our attention, maintaining its presence, and us in the present moment; the selective prospect expects that the idea will extinguish itself or be limited such that it will exit our attention after an interval (whether we believe our attention to be connected to its vanishing is a separate matter). The sense of time is very different in the two prospects: in creative time, everything seems to happen at once, or time is forgotten; selective time goes by, is consumed, and follows (or leaves behind) a trail.

Okay, so what is the companion theme to Attraction, at long last? First of all, let me point out that Attraction is a Thou-and-I-framed theme (which is perhaps why the so-called Law of Attraction, which frames it as Universe-and-I, seems so ludicrous­ to some). We've not had many Thou-and-I themes this year (I think Play may have been one, the difficult Privacy and Empathy certainly were, Marriage perhaps should have been one). It also has, I will venture, a creative, rather than selective, prospect, in the sense of "mutual" attraction that we want to grow. Deciding to classify it as such makes it clearer why we might resolve to discuss "mate selection" separately (speaking of "prospects"!). So the counterpoint to Attraction is any theme with a Thou-and-I frame and a selective prospect.

Well, one proposed theme has been Property, and of course home prices are in the news–but isn't that a Society-and-I theme? After all, doesn't it take a polity to enforce ownership rights? Perhaps, but the right of personal ownership (be it of real estate, mates, or slaves) is most dramatically conceived as a right of exclusion: I don't have to use what I own, but I can prevent you from using it. ("Trespass forbidden" is precisely how intellectual property works.) The deep roots of the Thou-and-I interpretation are revealed by the emotional fervor Property arouses in its supporters and detractors. I have no doubt we will explore the Universe-and-I (Property is an object I can manipulate) and the Society-and-I (Property is the foundation of a stable society) frames...maybe even a combination (Property is the best way for a society to maintain its environment), but these are merely adjacent viewpoints (I can manipulate objects that are not Property, find stable societies that are communitarian). The "selective prospect" of the Universe-and-I frame is that I have to exclude you (that is–all others, individually) from trespassing; only later might I leverage this access to create something. The root of the word proprietorship is own, as in "my own," as in a child declaring to a sibling, "Mine!", expecting that you will comply and exit the confrontation, simplifying the scene. This example shows that it doesn't matter if there is any overlap in the domain between the themes, only that they exercise our thinking in opposing directions within similarly scoped frames.

Of course, what does it really matter if we use the same frame on different themes in one month? That's just a silly requirement I adopted when we were meeting on alternate days of the week. I guess my secret motive for walking us through this thematic metaphysics (thinking of frame and prospect as ontological attributes, for those inclined to metaphysics) is that I believe we should be alternating these attributes more mindfully within every meeting. Being aware of what frame we are inhabiting, and what prospect we hold–what our focus and expectation are, roughly–will be a great help, if only to give equal time to all sides. More than that, though, it gives us a way to think about our own thinking. Once we can do that, our ability to discern and draw meaningful connections among ideas will rise exponentially.

So if you see with me with a six-cell chart next time, don't be surprised! ;-)
Jeff G
Ulrich
Oakland, CA
Post #: 123
Let's further explore the categorization of themes I introduced in the previous post. Instead of proceeding systematically or top-down, let's look at various meetings and see what fits and where we can put some meat on its bones. The goal is not a rigid algorithm, but a clear language with which to describe and compare themes and the approach we take to them. I'm looking over the many artifacts­ we've generated, looking for clues, but there's nothing scientific about the sampling!

Recall that December's meetings were remarked to feel a little too similar. Sanctification I regarded as rooted in the Society-and-I frame, given that myths belong to culture. The "Modern" in Modern Family was deliberately intended to expand the Family theme from its intimate Thou-and-I frame to the Society-and-I frame, thus maintaining the frame of the month. I'm not sure that trick succeeded, at least not without side effects.

The prospect of Sanctity should be creative: myths are a given, we use them to create meaning. But here the theme explicitly promoted the selective prospect, the process of making entities sacred, Sanctification. The concept map reveals a pattern of selective prospects with creative prospects at its edges (leaf nodes), showing that we stopped associating (abandoned our line of thinking) when we reached the point of contemplating how to cope with the forces we had identified. We didn't want to leave the selective prospect!

The prospect of Family should also be creative, since family bonds last for much of our lives–but were those the bonds we actually centered our discussion upon? Only briefly, because our main topic was whether it was genetics or culture that held them together, which implies mentally taking them apart, first. We considered how new types of families were being constructed from "parts." Plus these families' bonds were looser, more subject to individual choice–that is, elimination. Thus the prospect we adopted was mainly selective.

So the pair of Society-and-I discussions felt too similar because they both leaned on the selective prospect–the workhorse of the scientific attitude. I commented at the time that perhaps the Family theme was too intimate for us, so that we retreated to talking about other families. But that was exactly why I'd chosen Sanctification, and then, what was tantamount to Familification: I did not want a second month of strenuous Thou-and-I thinking, and social concepts seemed safer. There are, however, multiple ways of considering the social: the sociological perspective involves comparing families or sacred things, focusing on one and then another, on the past and then some future–in contrast to taking on how to be (in) a family, as a social worker or family counselor might do, or applying myths to our lives, as a therapist might do.

It seems I had conflated the comfortable prospective distance of objectivity with the presumed comfort of framing the theme at the level of society. In fact, I remember imagining beforehand that we might ask how we ourselves would manage, had we been born or adopted into some nontraditional family; moreover, I can see from looking at the Modern Family concept map, that participants did present openings for taking the creative prospect on the theme, but I missed them. Why? Because I had lost track of where I wanted us to venture, which of course leaves us at the mercy of our old familiar reflexes. This is the kind of oversight or confusion that this typology of themes might help surmount.

The other recent matched pair of Society-and-I themes showed a similar pattern, but with happier results on the theme with selective prospect. Progress­ is naturally creative, but of all the topics floated, the few that got attention were very selective (arguing over definitions is selective in the same way as Property). Apocalypse­, on the other hand, was rife with selective prospect, and sure enough, the first salvoes attempted to reject the concept outright; only after parrying them did we allow ourselves to go inside it, eventually finding the light at the end of the tunnel. Perhaps we felt secure accepting the idea of Apocalypse because we represented it as fiction, particularly by stories noted for their outlandishness or ancient origin; Progress, on the other hand, is the very real story we are supposedly living now.

Earlier themes friendly toward a Society-and-I frame with a creative prospect were Art, Identity, and Hypocrisy. (I wasn't making concept maps back then, so I'm looking at the Last Words.) Our treatment of Art­ turned selective because we preferred to judge art rather than experience it: we might have balanced that by also asking how art integrates artists and its beholders into society, whether beneficially or not. Identity­ stimulated us to wonder how we could reject or exchange (that is, select) our own identities, but also how to live (creatively) with what identities we have: in this case, I now believe it was me who pushed the selective prospect, and that having more tools prepared to help explore the issues in living with identities would have made a big difference. A creative prospect on Hypocrisy would be to find a way to "let it be," which in fact we did address: during the meeting, by undermining its common definition (albeit via selection), and in my Last Word, by making hypocrisy a necessary component of social change. Generally, I find the creative prospect more likely to put a smile on my face–at first because of its frequent irony, and later because it helps me cope with what is.
Jeff G
Ulrich
Oakland, CA
Post #: 124
In introducing the frame concept, the upcoming Property theme provided an example of how multiple frames might arise in the contemplation of an concept. Let's look at the creative prospect as it occurs in other frames.

Taking a closer look at Charity­, we see that often we took a moral view (trying to figure out which side to condemn), but the other topics left it up to the respondent to choose the prospect, reflecting how the actual discussion was left up in the air. Interestingly, it seemed that the strong pull of its Thou-and-I frame kept us in the creative prospect, even as we attempted to import ideas from the other two frames. Earlier Thou-and-I themes with a strong creative prospect were Marriage, Play, and Empathy. Marriage­ has a similar creative bias as Family in that it is meant to be forever, making it easier to hold its image before ourselves, until we can make ourselves fit into it by adjusting our own thinking. Reading between the lines of the various questions, one sees that questioners were usually asking themselves whether marriage was an unqualified good, or right for them, with fewer asking instead how to make themselves right within it. The question I chose to answer did have a selective prospect, in that it involved a comparison of married and single life, yet my response considered one's transition between them, making it not a matter of exercising choice but of experiencing change–that's a creative prospect. Most of the questions we asked about Play­ did not imply any Other being played with, shifting the frame to Universe-and-I, but a couple that did shared a striking attribute: the Other was an opponent. Their emphasis (in my wording, anyway) on reconciliation reflected a creative prospect. Empathy took a strong Society-and-I turn, accompanied by the now-familiar selective agenda wherein we want to judge who is empathic and who is not.

The recent Attraction­ theme began with a Universe-and-I frame and scientific curiosity (read, selective prospect), then jumped to uniforms, which is an amalgam of persons, and objects (fetishes?) or roles. From there we hopped to music performance, which put us pretty squarely in the creative prospect, where we stopped tinkering with the scene to see if we could turn attraction on and off–in fact, an attempt to introduce doubt struck me as a pointless tangent, whereas in a selective mood it would have made perfect sense. There were further selective challenges, yet we interpreted them creatively: trying to comprehend differences, or at least accept them. We considered imagery, metaphors, and drama, all of which served to focus our attention on attraction so much that selective prospects raised here didn't gain traction. We ended with Thomas Mann's famous depiction of being trapped in the creative prospect.

Past Universe-and-I themes with a model creative prospect included Contentment, Know-How, and Willpower. Interestingly, half the group implicitly rejected Contentment­ in that it contemplated the moral value of its absence, either in deference to others or out of asceticism. The other half of the group also chipped away at it, by mapping a territory in the brain, or in the universe of desired objects, and wondering how much we could do without. My Sartrean response (one of my favorites) mocked this process, taking a creative prospect in that I didn't attempt to "fix" anything–when it's one being against the universe, what else is there to do? The Know-How­ that we most wanted was how to acquire creativity itself, and learning is a creative prospect. My prescription for that project started out with a selective prospect to exclude the uncreative hack, then admitted the crucial role of accident, and finally demanded attention–the essential attribute of the creative prospect. Willpower participants, I recall, were quite interested in acquiring the referent of that theme, which happened, as well, to be a form of power over the universe. Hmm.

Unsurprisingly, our Creativity discussion had a decided preference for the creative prospect, affirming the role of accident, attention, improvisation, courage, a diminished sense of time, and endurance; however, one might hold that affirming them as principles is not the same as exercising them. Might there have been some way of getting beyond lip service? What if we had actually created something from accidents, like a group-improvised definition of Creativity, and then held ourselves to it? Perhaps it was the lack of resistance in the idea we were contemplating that presented no motivation to go beyond our usual perception, but actually there was resistance in some quarter: we should have addressed that challenge seriously, if only for the benefit of exercise.

The recent Simplicity theme was expected to favor the selective prospect, which it did, except that it really should have been called Simplification. Anyway, that was the way we interpreted it from the start. Thus we skipped over topics like "simple living," which might have required a creative prospect. Unlike Familification and Sanctification, however, there is a convenient concept that encompasses That Which Is To Be Simplified–so we started off by applying the selective prospect to Complexity. Then we got creative by recasting Complexity as ambiguity or the innocuous result of the limits of language or of the brain, but we still really disliked Complexity. We turned to the Thou-and-I frame, which let us blame Complexity on the Other, using suspicion rather than reduction as our selective tool. Another gambit to lead us into the creative prospect was to make the Other out to be God, which brought us back to forgiving Complexity by acknowledging limits . Having identified two Simplicities–one created whole, and one selected (that is, forged) from Complexity–seemed to fuel a love-hate relationship that increased our prospective flexibility.
Jeff G
Ulrich
Oakland, CA
Post #: 125
Before trying to come up with a intuitive, actionable summary of the survey of our encounters with the creative prospect, I will point out that I have not considered here the very real, pathological condition that is opposite to that of the exclusively-selective prospect highlighted throughout these examples. The only rationale I offer for the omission is that Philosophy Cafe has not suffered much from an overactive creative prospect. Out of politeness, we might not subject the creative ideas of others to the selective prospect, but I suspect that most of them never make it past the censors of their individual originators.

The vocabularies I used to describe the prospects were rather distinct in each frame. A meaningful summary picture will have to proceed frame by frame.

In the Society-and-I frame, the creative prospect is a therapeutic, immersive stance emphasizing acceptance and integration, sometimes using stories or irony as tools. By contrast, the selective prospect is a sociological, comparative stance emphasizing judgment or exclusion, which may employ metaphors of territory and transaction. Well, that's a mouthful–what is the image we should have in mind? What is the telltale characteristic of a topic beheld in creative prospect? Quite simply, it is that the scene being contemplated does not change, and we don't try to change it. Instead, we allow ourselves to be changed; that is, we adapt to the scene. If we have to, we rationalize our lack of resistance by claiming that an idea is immutable or irresistible. If it has wounded us, then we focus on healing. We do not escape, avoid, or try to fix the idea which has us in its thrall. It is, after all, only a mode of thinking that we can turn off and on, with practice. The risk that the notions we bear witness to could permanently change us is real, but philosophy is pointless if we don't take that risk. Do not believe that you can fool others into thinking you have tried embracing their idea when you have not–certainly, you yourself can distinguish lip service from true engagement.

When we feel ourselves searching for safety, on the other hand, then we are already in the selective prospect, looking for a way out or place to hide. Here, not there; this, not that. Feeling like we are under fire, we appeal to higher powers, or camouflage ourselves: morality, or anonymity, might protect us. Yet, as any prospect is a game, it can be ended when one wills: the difficulty arises in that ending the selective prospect feels like surrender. To give up an argument or territory is shameful, not to make a comparison is stupid, not to profit on a trade is naive. But true surrender is not acquiescence to our competitor: instead we switch sides such that they find us now in partnership with them, facing together whatever circumstance our mutual opposition had been distracting us from. Generally, this more encompassing condition is one requiring a prospect of creative humility that contrasts with the pride engendered by the selective fight. This should come naturally with practice, given that social problems are bigger than individuals, by definition; however, our progressive modernism discourages even short respites from the fight. Is refusing to see war, poverty, and illness "from the inside" really helping win the fight against them? Does society need philosophers to stand outside the schools, the economy, and politics, pronouncing judgments on select parties in each arena? Going inside, without losing our bearings, and being able to travel back and forth to the external, objective stronghold–now, that might be useful.

In the Thou-and-I frame, the creative prospect is an "eyes wide open" posture emphasizing reconciliation and adaptation, and often resulting in transition or forgiveness. In the selective prospect, on the other hand, we evaluate options for their suitability and contemplate choices that separate us from the past and possible futures–"turning a blind eye" and blame make these easier. Because "Thou" is not an abstraction, but a person (or incarnated principle) who is at an intimate distance, the creative prospect is marked, not by dialectic struggle, but by felt emotion. The scene cannot be changed by averting our gaze, because we are stuck within it. Simple fixes don't present themselves, because the game-like aspect of a relationship is unplayable at this close proximity: Thou art going to reject obvious ploys, Thou ART going to take it personally. We pause more frequently, as we take stock of the Other. Typically, discussions try to segue to other frames to escape these hardships. But life's greatest joys, too, are bound up within the Thou-and-I frame. We stay in it for the children, not to be alone, to satisfy ourselves that we gave it our best shot, not to miss what happens next. We compromise, not out of calculated fairness, but as an offering of our own selves that keeps us in the game. And how relieved we are, to be rid of our selves.
...
Jeff G
Ulrich
Oakland, CA
Post #: 126
...
When we become aware of choices, though, then we have adopted the selective prospect, regardless of whether the alternatives are truly workable or differentiated. Our position is outside the relation, as advisor to ourselves. The selective prospect seems to be professionals' consensus recommendation in our time, perhaps because it gives them a role, but no responsibility. The distance their presence interpolates between Thou and I reduces the temptation to hit–or to hold–the Other. We've developed a dependency on an external decision-making function, we're convinced that a danger lurks in who we are without a chaperone or referee, we've lost confidence in our ability to sway the Other. But trusting ourselves to be alone (unarmed, unmediated) with the Other is not foolish vulnerability, because it was the third party's presence that made us feel small in the first place. Our already being in the relationship is enough evidence that it is safe: removing illusory guarantees (not discounting the reality of danger) deepens and widens our perception, which is essence of the creative prospect. Gradually we discover that our ability to inhabit this prospect does not depend on who the Other is, or what the theme is: when a Thou-and-I-framed idea is perceived from within the whole, differences are comprehended (even welcomed) as variation, rather than as sutures. Themes that are endorsed by society, or involve compassion, ease our entry into this prospect, and elements of drama–plot, character, performance–can put us quite readily into a state of beholding, of embracing the world. And because there's little anyone can do at a distance (other than drop bombs or give advice), the philosopher really does have to deliver his wisdom in person.

In the Universe-and-I frame, the creative prospect is an improvisational, courageous way of attending to the world that embraces limits, ambiguity, and accident, often yielding a mythopoetic understanding of our place in it. The selective prospect is a self-disciplined, aggressive way of skillfully dissecting the world, often demarcating territories and producing a sense of power. In the Universe-and-I frame, there is no Other, neither singular nor collective, to be credited or blamed for what we find–what happens to our compulsion to interpret the world in relation to ourselves? If our sense of self disappears, then we know we are in the creative prospect. Without self, our sense of time is suspended, and we are in "flow"; without sequence, causality is useless, and circularity pleases us; without consequences, freedom is a given, and we welcome the unexpected. While these states are blissful while they envelop us, once returned to normal consciousness (as is inevitable), we may feel unease at the lacunae they leave behind. Like the morning after a "great" party, we wonder what were we doing, did we really say that, and can we ever live it down? We have to trust that others recognize that a speaker in the creative prospect does not address them like an audience or a jury, instead, they overhear a meditation or even a prayer. And audiences that witness this tend to confirm that the boundaries of performance have been erased, as they, too, return to "normal" when it's over, yet lacking a history that would enable them to critique.

The "self" diminishes in the selective prospect, too, but the feeling is very different, as we become acutely conscious of our insignificance. Rather than losing our separate identity to something larger, it has become untethered, and we drift in isolation. To cope, we whistle in the dark: we make up our own stories, plot a course using maps we drew yesterday. If, as we suspect, our voyage's destination no longer exists, then our voyage must end only after every corner has been explored; thus, we hope the universe is infinite. But postponing death by always being too busy for it does not add up to life; nor is a limitless quantity of options the same as the infinite possibility inherent in actual, lived time. To jump off the cliff (hint: it's in the direction of greatest resistance) is to categorically reunite with the universe: is that not exactly Aristotle's telos? No leap of faith is required–only the courage to follow truth when it leads where we won't go. Sacrifice is exactly that beginning which requires an ending–a transformation. Weren't our contrived, material wants mere substitutes for purpose? To take them along with us into the creative prospect would be deeply profane, like wanting to be a god among men–but it's okay to visit them. Render unto Caesar, as they say. In the Universe-and-I frame, the philosopher's role is, like that of a good manager, to make himself unnecessary, to quietly excuse himself, to vanish.

That probably doesn't do as a summary, so I'll call it just a synthesis–one of several possible. Perhaps conditions will arise in our discussions, or elsewhere in our lives, that remind us of one of these dreamlike narratives, and then we'll raise a white flag, drop our mask, stop stalling–perhaps only because we've run out of other ideas. Useful knowledge doesn't come bundled in tidy propositions; instead, we thread a series of paths through the ground of interest until we've woven a fabric of understanding. Next, we want a path that takes us from one frame to another, and for that we need to get a better understanding of frames.
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