Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Tapping Philosophy: Culture

Hi Tapping,

Thanks to everyone who came out for consciousness last week. I heard you all had a great discussion, no thanks to me. I'm happy to hear that things went well without my presence. This Thursday we'll be running rides from Connelly at 7:30, and meeting at Yeats at 8:00.

This week's topic is my own doing.


So first I'm going to give some historical background to frame the word culture with a little help from my friend Raymond Williams, in order to address the difficulty of this topic. Etymologically, culture derives from the Latin word colere, which can mean many things including: to inhabit, cultivate, protect, or honor with worship. According to Williams, culture has a classical agricultural meaning that denotes "intellectual, spiritual, and aesthetic development," (cultivation of the self or humanity in general) a modern meaning which denotes the particular way of life that a group of people that can be contrasted to other groups in a value laden way (civilized vs barbarians), and finally a contemporary meaning as a value neutral umbrella term used to refer to art, music, poetry, etc. It's also worth noting that this does not even cover the various ways in which culture is used within academic disciplines, which have their own specific uses of the term, which may or may not match up with any of the vulgar ones that I just mentioned. Therefore, when discussing culture, we must be aware that the ground is unstable, with its various usages between and within languages blurring, overlapping, and diverging. Tread carefully.

I think all it will take to fuel this discussion is one deceptively simple question:

What is the relationship between culture and human experience?

If we came even close to answering this question, that would be acceptable.

Perhaps I hinge too much on human experience with this formulation. However, I think we can all agree that understanding human experience is of central concern.

If that's not enough, I suppose we could delineate different aspects of all the different definitions of culture that we could come up with. We could talk about the various evaluations of cultures and participations within cultures. We could even talk about ideology if you want, as a sort of motivated culture.

Nevertheless, I think one question is enough. You may differ.

Love and Peace,


Tapping Philosophy: Consciousness

Hi Tapping,
I PITY the fool who didn't come to tapping last week. Christina has written this week's topic, which is consciousness. It will make your head explode. Meet in Connelly center at 7:30 for rides, or Yeats at 8:00 on Thursday.

Love and Peace,


What is consciousness?

How can consciousness exist? Does consciousness rely on an external world around us? Can having a consciousness infringe on our ability to be conscious

Descartes is the granddaddy of consciousness and he mainly defines it through self-awareness or reflexive thought. I think it would be interesting to ask why consciousness has evolved in human beings. The awareness we have of ourselves and of our abilities enables some humans to do extraordinary things. We can construct buildings, examine the molecular biology of moss, or write symphonies—what is their (if any) evolutionary reason for this kind of understanding?

I think another interesting direction we could go with this is where Descartes leaves off. Part of Descartes' analysis blends the focal points of consciousness into indistinct parts where Sartre redefines consciousness into two basic forms: 1) consciousness that is focused on an object or an idea (i.e., I think therefore I am) or 2) consciousness focused on the state of thinking that I'm in. Sartre is clear in saying that these two states cannot bleed into each other; the subject is always held apart from the object.

This brings up another series of questions, and the one I find to be the most interesting is how we perceive ourselves subjectively while living in a world where objective things exist in a realm that no one is able to recognize absolutely. How can we examine this phenomenological experience? How do we draw line between a mental representation and an actual event? Does our subjective consciousness allow us to rationalize objects or events as different than how they happened in reality? Where does reality and subjectivity meet? Or can consciousness only exist with an external world around us?

Nietzsche would argue (more eloquently and with different wording) that most of the time many of us walk around lacking an actual conscious will. While we are always conscious in the strict biological sense of the word, many times we go through the motions in our own lives without consciously considering the weight of our actions or what it is we are doing? Or is going through the motions a form of consciousness? Is individual consciousness reliant on social relations, norms or ideologies? Is our idea of who we are and our interests imaginary? Can we lose consciousness?

What about the relationship between consciousness and language? Does a smaller vocabulary limit your self-awareness? Does your awareness of your self and how you identify yourself play a role in how your consciousness behaves? For instance, we all want to think of ourselves as good people, but does our consciousness promotes this by seemingly limiting or options for things through rationalizing our identity through what we do or by leaving out parts of the story that are dissonant with the theme?

The conscious mind may be compared to a fountain playing in the sun and falling back into the great subterranean pool of subconscious from which it rises.

Sigmund Freud

To be conscious means not simply to be, but to be reported, known, to have awareness of one's being added to that being.

William James

Analysis brings no curative powers in its train; it merely makes us conscious of the existence of an evil, which, oddly enough, is consciousness.

Henry Miller

Imagination is always the fabric of social life and the dynamic of history. The influence of real needs and compulsions, of real interests and materials, is indirect because the crowd is never conscious of it.

Simone Weil

Francis Prior
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