Gut Feelings

11 December 2014

This week’s show is about gut feelings—and the art of decision-making.

Sometimes we make decisions that we think long and hard about, but often we make decisions simply because it feels right. Call it a hunch, an intuition, or an instinct—what they all have in common is that we don’t know why we feel the way we do, yet the feeling can be so compelling, it moves us to act. The question is, when should we listen to our gut feelings and make decisions based on something we can’t explain? And when should we stop to think?

A first approach to this question might be to consider whether gut feelings are in some sense rational, even if we can’t offer explicit reasons for them. Perhaps for some gut instincts, we are responding unconsciously to particular cues in our environment. For example, sometimes people can sense when they are in danger without knowing exactly why they believe this. They just feel an unusual sense of foreboding. There may be good reasons for this feeling—but those reasons are hidden from consciousness. 

From an evolutionary perspective, it makes sense that we would have a mechanism whereby we unconsciously perceive and respond to stimuli in our enironment. Conscious deliberation is a slow and sometimes cumbersome process, and we need to be able act quickly in a lot of situations, especially when we are in danger. So, it seems safe to say that at least some gut feelings are reliable and we ought to listen to those. 

Of course, it’s also possible to feel a sense of foreboding because of general anxiety, stress, or paranoia. Just because we feel we are in danger, it doesn’t automatically follow that we are. But how do we tell the difference? Is there some way to distinguish reliable intuitions from other feelings we might have? The degree of certainty we feel doesn’t seem to be good indicator. Just think of all the gamblers who lose everything because they are absolutely certain they will win based on nothing but a feeling.

Things look a little different when we focus on the gut feelings of experts in a particular field. Take chicken sexers, for example! A chicken sexer is someone whose job is to sort newborn male from female chickens. Without the requisite training, telling a male chick from a female is a very difficult thing to do. There are no obvious traits one has that the other lacks. But professional chicken sexers are able to tell male from female at a quick glance. What’s really interesting about chicken sexers is that they can’t explain how they know the difference—they simply know. They have developed a gut feeling for it.

You might wonder how chicken sexers would ever be able to train someone else to do the job if they themselves can’t explain how they know the difference. Curiously, if you want to learn how to do this, you just have to watch a professional at work until you too develop the instinct. With a little bit of time and effort, you can start to see the difference, though you probably won’t be able to say what that difference is either. You’ll just know by instinct.

The case of the chicken sexer suggests two things: (1) the instincts of experts with the requisite training are more reliable than ordinary gut feelings, and (2) it’s possible to train your gut in a way that by-passes the rational part of your mind. That’s really fascinating, but unfortunately it doesn’t help us with the bigger question of whether ordinary gut feelings are to be trusted.

Some people are deeply suspicious of gut feelings and believe that when it comes to important life decisions, we ought to carefully evaluate all the pros and cons, and then make a rational, deliberate choice. Why would you trust your fate to some mysterious and potentially unreliable feeling? Of course, an obvious exception to this is the decision to get married. Most people don’t carefully weigh the reasons for or against getting married, or if they do, they don’t decide based on that. Even if they take some time to figure out what the right thing to do is, it’s not to calculate the mathematical odds of future happiness—it’s to tune into what feels right.

Let’s set aside this example because love is clearly a matter of the heart, not the head. What about less emotionally-charged decisions, like where you ought to invest money? Should you trust your gut to make investment choices, or is this a case where you ought to do research, make some calculations, and then decide?

On the surface, it may seem like this is a clear-cut case where we ought to make various careful calculations before investing. But what if it turned out that people who trusted their gut instincts made better investment choices than those who attempted to make a rational, well-informed choice? Some surprising research on gut instincts suggests that this is often the case. The reason is that we can become overwhelmed with too much information and need some fast and simple way to cut through all the noise. When there are many variables to consider, thinking through them all becomes a monumental task, so we need some other way to pick out the best strategy. And that’s where the gut comes in. 

Our guest this week, psychologist Gerd Gigerenzer of the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin, is a leading expert on gut feelings. A lot of his work focuses on heuristics—simple rules of thumb we use when making decisions, big and small. He is the author of Gut Feelings: The Intelligence of the Unconscious (2008), Simple Heuristics That Make Us Smart (2000), and many other volumes.

I’m looking forward to getting some answers to the following questions: How do we know when our gut feelings are reliable? Is there a way to distinguish trustworthy intuitions from irrational feelings and biases? And what about the gut feelings of experts? Are they fundamentally different from ordinary gut feelings? Should we be willing to trust an expert’s instincts when the expert is unable to provide an explanation for them? What role should intuitive thinking play in important decision making? And how can we train ourselves to have better gut instincts?

Comments (44)


Guest's picture

Guest

Friday, July 20, 2012 -- 5:00 PM

Thank you for this article on

Thank you for this article on gut feelings and I loved your intriguing questions. I wanted to give some responses to these questions, if I may. I say responses because these are questions that are only truly answered by each person within their own knowledge of themselves and their own gut feelings. At any rate, here are my responses, which I base on both my own gut feeling awareness and over 40 years of counseling and research study on gut feelings with hundreds of people:
?How do we know when our gut feelings are reliable? Is there a way to distinguish trustworthy intuitions from irrational feelings and biases??
Irrational feelings are our emotions, not the feelings in our guts, although unfortunately often confused. Let me explain briefly the difference between emotions and gut feelings, because I think this is a key to this question. Emotions are generally felt above the gut, above the hara, and are a combination of feeling from the gut and thinking from the head, i.e. fear, emptiness in gut feeling combined with a projection from the head as to a specified threat. Gut feelings have no thinking component like emotions do, gut feelings are pure feeling of emptiness or fullness and they are the source of all feeling in emotions. Emotions are psycho-somatic, where as gut feelings are pure feeling and relate to the state of the human organism. Gut feelings are your truth, so to speak, related to how well your needs for acceptance and control of your own responses to life/freedom is being met, and they are in that way always reliable. It can take quite a bit of reflection on our gut feelings to begin to understand this, to see this in your own experience, particularly if one is not use to exploring feelings and distinguishing the difference in emotions and gut feelings. But just like it is so important to understand the difference in thinking and feeling to increase our EI, our emotional intelligence, it is important to take the time to understand the difference in emotional feelings and gut feelings to further increase our intelligence and facility that we may like to call "Intuition". So, we may have increased our "EI" by understanding the difference in our thinking and feelings or emotions, but let's go further and increase our "Intuitive Intelligence" by understanding and reflecting upon the difference in our emotional feelings and gut feelings.
?What role should intuitive thinking play in important decision making? And how can we train ourselves to have better gut instincts??
We need to explore our gut instincts, not just use them with some vague idea of what they are. One really has to "know Thyself" and take the effort to do that inner work to use their gut feelings successfully in decision-making. There is much more to our gut instincts than just "pattern recognition brain impressions", although these patterns are certainly a result of our gut intelligence combined with our thinking?and rather it is accurate thinking or not depends upon whether we use our gut feelings as a premise of our thinking or leave out the impact of experience upon us and marginalize our human needs as unimportant to consider in problem-solving. This all effects the accuracy and haze in these mental patterns and our ability to have and increase Intuitive Intelligence. My colleague Robert Sterling and I have found as counselors, researchers, and educators over 40 plus years on this subject that people find that their intuition and healthy decision-making increases exponentially with somatic reflection on the awareness of one's gut feelings.
We think you would find it intriguing to check out our recent book "What's Behind Your Belly Button? A Psychological Perspective of the Intelligence of Human Nature and Gut Instinct", available on Amazon, as we have included techniques and discussion on increasing gut feeling awareness (understanding the difference in gut feelings and emotional feelings) and how through gut feeling reflection we "update" our old "patterns" in our thinking brain, increase our Intuition, and learn to serve our inner needs as human beings in healthy decision-making.
http://careerstorefront.angelfire.com
Aloha and I look forward to more of your blog articles,
Martha Love

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Friday, July 20, 2012 -- 5:00 PM

So many questions, John/Ken!

So many questions, John/Ken! Your illustration begs the following Yogism: when you come to a fork in the road, take it. To most all of those questions, I will proffer the following notion: most all of us have an ingrained spider sense, or gut feeling if you prefer. This sense develops, over time and experiences gained. (I am not great with words like heuristics, hermenutics and such like.) Your expert, GG, probably knows a lot about these things. In any case, "training" comes with personal experience. Those of us who live longest, without encountering "bad luck" (or poor decisions), leading to early death, finally develop a pretty good spider sense, or as you have characterized it: gut feelings. Irrational feelings and biases are bumps in the road---part of the learning curve---which we may eventually overcome if sagacity prevails. (If not, that early death becomes and ever-more present possibility.) Gut feelings are not science yet. But, even though there are "life sciences", neither is life.

Guest's picture

Guest

Saturday, July 21, 2012 -- 5:00 PM

In his revised edition of The

In his revised edition of The Mismeasure of Man, Copyright 1996, Stephen Jay Gould said: "...never trust a gut feeling...". That admonition came at the beginning of his discussion of correlation, cause and factor analysis on page 269. Certainly, many of the IQ scientists he debunks in his book (Goddard, Broca, Burt, etc.) did not, in many cases at least, adhere to such advice which may have been given in their day. Gut feelings of experts must have some more credible bases---at least when related to those specific areas of expertise. Lay persons who have gut feelings about things with which they have no knowledge, experience or training are most likely talking through their hat.
Gut feelings do have some credibility, it seems. They have saved our skins, literally and figuratively, many times.
And the longer we survive, the better they become as predictors. Your expert may or may not affirm that assertion. But, I'll stand by it, regardless. We go with what we know.

Guest's picture

Guest

Saturday, July 21, 2012 -- 5:00 PM

The Road Not Taken

The Road Not Taken
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I marked the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Robert Frost
One of my favorite poems!
Surely the best path to take is the One that feels right and that has made all the Oneness or unity of me.
Follow your heart, it rings true,
=

Guest's picture

Guest

Tuesday, July 24, 2012 -- 5:00 PM

I must admit being unclear on

I must admit being unclear on the precise distinction between a feeling and an emotion. A feeling is defined as a sensation or awareness of something, an impression produced on a person, an opinion, sentiment or foreboding. An emotion seems to be the outward expression of a feeling, sometimes accompanied by bodily reactions.
Nevertheless, a gut feeling as I understand it, is never reliable, otherwise it would be knowledge. However, almost all human decisions must be made with incomplete knowledge, therefore on gut feelings. The point is that gut feelings should be pursued by an effort to get further information or knowledge as corroboration, time permitting, before action is taken.

Guest's picture

Guest

Wednesday, July 25, 2012 -- 5:00 PM

Gut feelings must date back

Gut feelings must date back to the earliest experiences of the earliest human ancestors. These are senses we are now dimly aware of, but which once must have meant life or death on a daily basis. Old habits die hard. Damned good thing, don't you think?

Guest's picture

Guest

Wednesday, July 25, 2012 -- 5:00 PM

2 points. 1: intuition looks

2 points. 1: intuition looks to me like how animals think.... before we muddled up the process with our incredibly useful invention of language and its right arm, logic
2: Intuition collects unbelievable reams of information that we fail to describe... thats how the woman predicted the rock fall... who knows.. heard things, saw things etc. Logic would not have helped a bit.

Guest's picture

Guest

Thursday, July 26, 2012 -- 5:00 PM

I know this is beyond the

I know this is beyond the scope and timeframe of this post. However, my wife is watching the Summer Olympics tonight. She has believed, for many years, that I would somehow; someday, become a re-patriated and patriotic supporter of such endeavors involving the United States. But, alas, after living outside these United States, in exile for a time; after seeing another side of the world's aspect---I simply cannot get excited about the Olympic Games: not for the United States, nor for anyone else. It is political window dressing and a huge commercial feather for all: money simply makes it all happen, skip all of the ifs, ands, and buts. My gut feelings about the games are: 1) they do little for world accord; 2) they are a platform for vanity, rather than sincere and mutual interest in honest competition; and, 3) they do nothing for the prestige of any participating nation, save in the eyes of that nation's citizenry.
I hope all goes well, for the sake of all. I will not be watching, though, because my gut feeling tells me not to do so.

Guest's picture

Guest

Saturday, July 28, 2012 -- 5:00 PM

This is not unlike the

This is not unlike the Malcolm Gladwell #1 Bestseller blink [sic].
The Power of Thinking Without Thinking.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blink_%28book%29
[criticisms acknowledged]
Handy tools for an over-analyzer like myself. Gut feelings are supermajority correct and advantageous.
Not to mention I was in IT for decades. Logic and reason were defied more than a few times.

Guest's picture

Guest

Sunday, July 29, 2012 -- 5:00 PM

Dr. S. sounds like a hardcore

Dr. S. sounds like a hardcore evolutionary biologist, speaking through a sociological megaphone. Which is certainly AOK with me. I like his impressions of the late Dr. Gould, whom I consider one of the finer minds of the twentieth century, along with Linus Pauling; Christopher Hitchens and several others who are still alive. Me? I am one of the mid-roaders. I believe that gut feelings are both a blessing and a curse. Here it is: those gut feelings that arise from inexperience, tend to be genuine. They are most likely to be that "spider sense"---the survival instinct, latent in our reptilian brain. Those that arise from teachings are, by their nature, biased. They are less reliable, seems to me, because they are open to variable interpretation. Such stimuli lead us to a fifty-fifty proposition: Doomed, if you do; damned if you don't. Uh, I guess fifty-fifty is overly optimistic. If this is confusing, imagine MY difficulty in trying to explain the notion. I'll try again: education leads us to educated responses, which are, by their nature weighted and biased, in favor of what we have been taught---and the institution behind that teaching.
Those things we learn, with no supervision, teaching or tutoring, have an unbiased "purity". If I survive a fall from a small cliff, memory will keep me from making that same error again (I hope).
If after sufficient financial counseling, I plunge into a second shaky venture and lose another $100,000, then I must be a dumb shit. They are out there. Time after time.
(I have not done the $200,000 experience---yet.)
TAP

Guest's picture

Guest

Tuesday, July 31, 2012 -- 5:00 PM

The Armchair Ph. makes some

The Armchair Ph. makes some excellent points. The ancient Pythagorians considered education a learning process in which the educator served as guide. Their philosophy (by the way, they coined the word) could be interpreted as guiding the student to elevate his or her (yes, they had both as students and educators) gut feelings into concrete knowledge. Unfortunately, education became a teaching process in which the educator no longer teaches students but teaches a class and it is up to the individual students whether they sink, tread water or swim.
By the way, my gut feelings are in accord on the Olympics.

Guest's picture

Guest

Tuesday, July 31, 2012 -- 5:00 PM

Gut feelings are always with

Gut feelings are always with us, how ever we may act upon them. I notice that many of my neighbors are still using kerosene to fire up their charcoal grills this summer. I do not use "charcoal lighter", because of a singular friend who died about twenty-five years ago. Al was a cigarette-smoking, liquor-drinking man, then in his sixties. Or late fifties. He looked old, in any case, but was fun to be around. A friend and I of similar age used to go to his home and fire up his grill for him, cooking 'burgers and sweet corn, or steaks and other such, when we had the money. We did this once a week---sometimes, more often. Long story shorter: Al died of stomach cancer about a year before paths parted and we went our separate ways. Al's cancer was probably a culmination of alcohol, tobacco and food-borne carcinogens, acting quickly in the last two years of his life.
I am around the age Al was when he died. I still consume alcohol, but do not smoke and do not use kerosene to start charcoal for cooking food. Maybe it is just dumb luck or genes---maybe I'll die next year. I do not know. I do know one thing however: food cooked on a charcoal grill tastes better---without kerosene. Maybe you, too, have noticed this? If not, try it. There are several low-petroleum alternatives to kerosene. Alcohol would work---if only it would burn long enough. Hmmmmph, said the Camel. And the Irish Elk (sorry, Stephen J.)

Laura Maguire's picture

Laura Maguire

Sunday, August 5, 2012 -- 5:00 PM

Thanks for all the great

Thanks for all the great comments, everyone! greenlibertarian - much of Gladwell's book Blink was based on the research of our guest, Gird Gigerenzer.

Gary M Washburn's picture

Gary M Washburn

Friday, December 12, 2014 -- 4:00 PM

~~  McCOY

~~  McCOY
       (imploring)
     Jim, try to be open about this.
       KIRK
     About what? That I've made the
     wrong choices in my life? That I
     turned left when I should've turned
     right? I know what my weaknesses
     are. I don't need Sybok to take me
     on a tour of them.
       McCOY
     If you'd just unbend and allow
     yourself -
       KIRK
     And be brainwashed by this con man?
       McCOY
     I was wrong. This "con man" took
     away my pain.
       KIRK
     Damnit, Bones, you're a doctor.
     You know that pain and guilt can't
     be taken away with a wave of a
     magic wand. They're things we carry
     with us - the things that make us
     who we are. If we lost them, we
     lose ourselves. I don't want my
     pain taken away. I need my pain.
Study the chicken picker carefully. You will note her extending the chick's wing and examining its leading edge.
 
 

mirugai's picture

mirugai

Sunday, December 14, 2014 -- 4:00 PM

THE RELIGION OF CAUSATION    

THE RELIGION OF CAUSATION      
 It was so refreshing to hear a philosophical discussion of some aspect of consciousness (?gut feelings?) without reference to neuroscience.  And this was probably due to a correct gut feeling that ?gut feelings? are antithetical to neural and structural brain stuff; that they are not really caused by brain actions.  Another telling remark was ?An idea pops into my brain?.? This is not a description of ?brain? workings; it is a description of consciousness workings. Setting consciousness in the brain is just a way of reassuring ourselves (falsely) of causality; that there is a mechanical, scientific, chemical, etc. process going on in the organ which produces our consciousness stuff. This is indicative of the harm that science (and especially, neuroscience) has done to philosophy. 
I call this strong, natural need for causation the religion of causation.
?Why do you think everything needs an explanation??  Prof. Jennan Ismael
It is a ?belief? that everything has a cause; when there is no evident proof of a cause, people try to fill one in. Because they ?believe? in causation; they believe that the cause is somewhere and if it can?t be found, one will be created from the great explainer, science.  John said ?Evolution provides a feed-back mechanism?? This is the Religion of Causation speaking: Darwinian evolution takes place entirely due to randomness and mutation. But because that feels to be an unsatisfying methodology for anything worthy of our fealty, we have attached the notions of ?survival of the fittest? and ?adaptation? to the representation of the process, to give us comfort that really there is some direction, some reassurance of reliability. (Almost like believing in God, which few Darwinians would admit). When John says ?Evolution provides a feed-back mechanism?? all he is really doing is saying ?I ?believe? something scientific says that something caused ?? But there is no scientific causation, in the sense of direction or certain repeatability, to DE. The urge to supply it is a classic human urge, like religion.
 I love the ?chicken sexing? discussion. All I can say is that I have chickens, and when I buy day-old chicks represented to me to be females, there is always the advice that ?If you want to have four hens, buy six chicks because one might be a male (illegal to have in the city where I live), and one might die.? It will be hard for us rationalists to believe, I know, but I can hold the one-day old chicks, and look at them, and I can ?sense? male or female. I think it might be an ability for which the ?practice? or ?exercise? is being ?open? and ?receptive? to these kinds of non-scientific matters, which you can tell is an interest of mine. At least being open enough to take them seriously enough to investigate them.
 
 

Gary M Washburn's picture

Gary M Washburn

Monday, December 15, 2014 -- 4:00 PM

Eliminativist neuroscientists

Eliminativist neuroscientists do indeed misrepresent consciousness, but the honest ones note that they cannot find it, and that the methodology they generally apply, either stimulating or damaging, or studying brains damaged, in certain areas somehow is telling the story of mind. And more, that the conclusions they derive from such stimulation or damage, such as making one's left thumb twitch or noting that destroyed tissue in a specific area causes the loss of a certain mental faculty or acuity, can be obviated by the subject in ways that repudiate the research results and so its methods.
 
Chickens make a wonderfully soothing clucking noise that roosters do not. Perhaps this is sensed even in the chicks. I learned of the chicken sorting trick on an epsiode of Mr's Rogers. The roosters, as I recall, have some rather more ragged feathers on the leading edge of their wings. In any case, mystery does not imply mysticism. I was riding my bycicle today and, looking down to see if the wet of the road was spraying onto me from the front wheel, I almost lost control of the bike. It seems that my reflex inverted with the upside-down perspective, and my steering went awry. It is easy to forget how much that we do is intuitive. (intuition--dare I say?-- "=" a commensuration between the empirical and the rational impossible but for the intervention of a mode of being capable of surviving the change between two incommensurate systems. I call it person, though consciousness will do in a pinch.)

mirugai's picture

mirugai

Monday, December 15, 2014 -- 4:00 PM

The "honest" neuroscientists

The "honest" neuroscientists are beginning to admit to what neuros and philosos are calling "the gap," between as far as neuroscience can take you, and the constitution of consciousness.  It would be very welcome (though not very popular in TED talks) if neuros stopped insisting that they, someday, will bridge the "gap." Honor the gap, neuros, you will be more respected for acknowledging limitations, rather than steam rolling over them.
Your continuing, fascinating, discussion of the calculus of philosophy reminds me of a state of mental rational paralysis I reached pursuing the unattainable end of meaning via deconstructive thinking and pondering.  Gary, paralysis can occur when trying to continually half the distance to the goal. That is when the metaphors of poetry (and the ironies of comedy) provide relief. And after a while you can resume the halving.

Gary M Washburn's picture

Gary M Washburn

Tuesday, December 16, 2014 -- 4:00 PM

Even space cannot be divided

Even space cannot be divided endlessly. That is why the infinitesimal is so problematic. But if the least term of space is the infinitesimal that cannot be decisively placed within any more than without the calculation, or its governing law, can time be divided even further still? If the least term of space is in contrariety to its geometric perfection or mathematical certitude what would the least term of time be? The conviction that everything material is enumerative, can be counted which one and how much it is, is incommensurable between these differing modes of being one, what divisions of that conviction but a kind of dialectic in the character of it? A sort of ebb and flow? Like, say, emotions? And if the last final and least yet most encompassing term of that conviction is its loss, then that dialectic is act. Act in a sense the concept of agency is but immanent to as a sort of epiphenomenon. Of course, like any contrariety, it is anomalous to its nominal or antecedent law unless it is in some sense enabled a response that completes its being the even more encompassing context of it. It is literally true that the least term of time is all the differing it is. The image of Achilles arrow or the tortoise and the hare is just an evasion, a putting off of the moment. The dilemma being that the most real act is loss and the most articulate term is what responsibility of the worth of that loss yet lives amongst us. Between loss, and responsibility of its worth being recognized (love), time is emancipated of its ordering and tempo. We cannot prepossess that moment, for there is no enduring it is.
Bertie Russell (not Wooster) somewhere says (I paraphrase) that a philosopher should start with commonplaces and derive outrageous truths. On a discussion board like this there is little scope for the extensive argumentation this requires. It necessitates outrages as the starting point, in hopes someone will show enough patience to hear some of the (more or less) commonplace reasons of it. The usual response, of course, is outrage, so I am gratified when I meet with a kinder one!

mirugai's picture

mirugai

Tuesday, December 16, 2014 -- 4:00 PM

So provocative, your thoughts

So provocative, your thoughts I differ with; so brilliant, your thoughts I agree with. Haha.  
Time: See the Four Quartets by TSEliot (first stanza of each quartet is about time).  I think of time not as "dot dot dot" but as "white noise." Very liberating, especially when everyone is equally qualified to describe "what time is."  Re: infinitesimal vs. finite: again, I caution against the paralysis that is coming from too much wondering about this, while trying to "find out" something.  "Ebb and flow" is a much more rational description of creation and change, than "big bang." There is so much more ebb and flow around than there is "infinite nothingness into which the explosion of all matter (intrudes?)."  I accept all dialectics; and I accept the Hegelian synthesis that sometimes results, as part of the process: Q: how we look at randomness and mutation to try to find reassuring causation (which isn't there); how to recognize (invent) responsibility for the worth of the loss.  The Greeks (the greatest philosophers) had two ways of looking at things: 1. what they called "normal" which meant what everyone (except nutcases) knew was the case, and 2. the product of phlosophical investigation, a rational dialog about thoughts. I am a BRussell fan because of his wonderful History of Western Philosophy, which I consult all the time (in fact, it is the only phil hist I read); but I am not a fan of his methodology: define terms. "Defining" sophistically makes the rules, asks the question, and then answers it, without examination. Defining is not doing philosophy; phil does not seek "definitions" it seeks "meaning," or significance, or what comes from the realization that EVERYTHING is representation.

Gary M Washburn's picture

Gary M Washburn

Thursday, December 18, 2014 -- 4:00 PM

Schopenhauer? (The World as

Schopenhauer? (The World as Will and Representation, the inspiration of Nietzsche's 'Will to Power')

My problem is that I have to reference a vast body of unpublished justification.

Richard Feynman has written a fine little book, QED, about the behavior of light that might give you something to think about. Time is neither monadic nor epochal. There is a torrential cascade of activity hidden by the obvious. Light and matter are not individual events but a cavalcade of strange improbables which themselves hide even deeper impossibles, though the calculus Feynman guides us through, with ease and humor, is guilty of the flaws I mentioned in another post. The point is, time is not simple, it is a dynamic of gestures that offer opportunities for yet other gestures is a bewildering array of maybes. But none of it is real alone. Only where there is some sense in which what is no more within the laws of causality or reason than without is more completing of time than that law is there anything real at all. The infinitesimal is not obviated the ordinary perspective of time as an even tempo of regular events because it is too small to be fixed there, but because it is too unalone. If it is indeed as without as within the law, this offers the rest of time the opportunity of be so, without as much as within regulating tempo, to be outside the law in the same sense and to the same extent. And so the character of time is the change that comes about in the law even as it seems, for all the world, to impose its tempo upon it. The only power the will has is to get out of the way as the rest of time finds its freedom from the grinding tempo of necessity in the sense its loss offers it. No god can save us. No act of will can expropriate or represent to itself what time means. We engage in a dialectic of inner reverie through which the very rigor of preserving our convictions end in the final term their loss is. This loss is the act of our needing each other free. But the world is sustained as the conviction of a regular and regulated tempo of time that deflects responsibility of that loss, and maintains that conviction, as an offer of facile understanding. We take for granted what our words mean and that we are understood. But insofar as that needing each other free is recognized, not in the lost conviction, which remains a personal reasoning, but in the demise of that facile presumption the world is offered us, there is meaning more real intimated here. In other worlds, the dialectic is the growing recognition of the joke the world is in its offering us the language of its steady constancy in the face of our growing recognition of its changing wildly. Who is the agent of that change? Every changing mood of the world presents itself as the paradigm of time and tempo, and many find profit in pretending to keep abreast of it or even to generate it, but the freedom we derive through each other in the dialectic of a changing mind and recognition of the freedom it wins for us can never become a public property, any more than a private hoard.

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