I Think, Therefore I am Staring out of the Window

WARNING: I have used the word uninterested. I think I have used it correctly, but I bet it will turn out it is meant to be disinterested. Oh the worries of language.

Sometimes, I read that the majority of humans are idiots. I wonder if it is not that we are idiots, but that we are uninterested in almost everything. We are keen on opinions, but bad on research. We are more interested in our own opinions than in facts or statistics or confronting why we believe what we believe. 

After those school years where we were told the importance of showing our working out, in adulthood, we are no longer concerned. We believe because “it just is, isn’t it”. The older I become, the more I awake each morning to realise that I know that I know less than I did the day before. On Monday, I was being interviewed by Total Politics, and found myself replying, “I don’t have an answer for that I am afraid, I really don’t know anything about it”. When I do sceptics in the pub events, I love the Q&As because I have no idea what I will be asked and whether I can fashion an opinion I am comfortable with, or whether I’ll actually stop talking for once. 

I meet people who are passionately or the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union and I ask “why?” Not because I think we should stay or because I think we should go, because I don’t know. When I meet people with forceful opinions, I hope to learn something from them. Surely, they can only be that passionate because they are immersed in the subject? When the fury is emitted, it seems to be from a gut instinct, as if the EU is one of those men with “the sort of face you can’t trust, I mean, look at his moustache”. 

This is what these blog posts were meant to be about, sometimes I have used it to try and work out why I seem to think what I seem to think. 

I can enjoy arguments on twitter. However much disdain my circuits of superiority feel when faced with a tweet that causes initial umbrage or resigned sighs, I can find that the “wasted time” of 140 character argument can help me understand why I hold an opinion and occasionally, perish the thought, confront the paucity and charlatanism of some of my thoughts. As I was a little rundown and preoccupied on Tuesday. I was unable to commit myself to any action of purpose, so I was distracted by a twitter argument with a self-described philosopher.  You can find the philosopher at @trentMN. I knew I was in a pugilistic mood after becoming facetious with a juggler in Brooklyn who was offering made up Hitler quotations to prove his atheism. Well, you have to occupy your time somehow when you are standing in the wind of Bristol Parkway. What a world it is that allows me to argue with a hacky sack unicyclist when we are separated by an ocean of both understanding and water. 

I do not believe that maxim “we’re all philosophers really”, I think to be considered a philosopher you need to have more than “some ideas I’ve just had on stuff”. Many of us have thoughts on life, death and consciousness, but it takes a level of study and a commitment of time to be considered a philosopher. Unfortunately, when I do read some of the drip tray pronouncements of certain academic philosophers, masking their shallow echoes of inebriated or skunk fogged thoughts with the official obfuscating language of the their discipline, I can get tetchy with it as a discipline. I like to do. I am not keen on endless discussions and meetings, so the itchy footed me throw his arms up in the air when reading philosophy and think, “we’re not still stuck on that are we? Brains in vats or not, we’ll take what the demon has given us and get on with doing something”. 

I try to be pragmatic. I like to know why a question is being asked. 

But I am not anti philosophy, just philosophy that seems to go round and round and round so philosophers have something to do. I also get annoyed when I think impenetrable language is not used because there is no other way of expressing an idea, but as an act of self-aggrandizement. 

And after all that, I love philosophy too. I believe our education system needs more teaching of philosophy not less. Philosophy is not teaching facts – “Socrates had a face like a bull” , “Nietzsche hugged a horse” – but teaching a method of questioning the world. When I have read that philosophy is dead, that it is all science now, I wonder exactly where the line must be drawn between these methods of interrogating our world and ourselves, and why we need to draw these lines. I presume governments are rarely keen on arming a population with clearer ways of dissecting opinions and questioning policy. You don’t want to have a nation that keeps asking “why?” , because then you will have to work out an answer. And if they can see that the answer is hollow, self-serving or incompetent, they get in the way of your plans. Good philosophy is a banana skin for dogma, I know I have landed on my arse a few times. Philosophy can be a steel boot swung into our complacency, a gauntlet that pulls down the trousers of the status quo (not sure how many metaphors of slapstick and knight based violence I can manage).

Now this has all gone a little awry, as I only meant to write about an argument on twitter. Enough words now, I’ll do a footnote post. 

My new DVD was released on Monday. Here is one of the stupid trailers (includes Stewart Lee impersonation) HERE

I am off on tour – Leamington Spa, Eastbourne, Salford, Norwich, Nottingham, Sheffield, a town near you. All details HERE

 and Cosmic Genome, the science app with Alice Roberts, Brian Cox and more, is HERE

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8 Responses to I Think, Therefore I am Staring out of the Window

  1. I followed your Twitter spat with @TrentMN and thought your blog might link to this disturbing article in the Guardian last week, on the new national curriculum for philosophy that removes the secular elements and teaches only theistic philosophies http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jan/29/philosophy-a-level-syllabus-religious-education

  2. Inga says:

    Speaking about philosophy, did you get around to watching that ‘debate’ with Massimo Pigliucci, Daniel Dennett & Lawrence Krauss?

  3. Scurra says:

    And, in a nutshell, this is why we have the politicians (and other sorts of leaders) that we have. Because you have to believe in what you believe so thoroughly that to entertain any idea that there might be an alternative view, let alone that that alternative view might be even remotely valid, has to be stamped down upon at all costs. (And yes, “skeptics” are as prone to this as anyone.) I could never join a political party because I could never sign up to the idea that Them were always wrong (and, therefore that Us were always right.)

  4. john matthews says:

    I find this survey of philosophy quite damning.

    How useful can a discipline be when the greatest minds struggle to get a consensus?

  5. Bradlaugh's Finger says:

    Before I began my undergraduate degree, my dad (who happens to be a quite-celebrated-in-his-own-field-but-you’ll-never-have-heard-of-him academic) gave me the one piece of fatherly advice I can remember him giving me before or since. He said, ‘If you’re not interested in a subject, the solution is to *take* an interest in it.’ Given the frequency with which I’ve repeated that advice to myself and others over the last 20 years, I rather wish he’d dispensed more such wisdom.

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