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Month: August 2016

Why Not to Worry

Posted in Friendly Philosophy

Idea: Worrying is trying to control the future (which is impossible).

Last time, I talked about a helpful technique for shutting down worry. But it works by shutting down imagination. And to do that, we need a really good reason.1

I used to think I worried–I imaginatively rehearsed distressing future situations–because I was “trying to be prepared.” Worry is practice, and the more practice, the better.

But I recently realized that what I’m really doing is trying to control the future. I worry over and over not for practice, but because I only feel in control of the future while I’m imagining it.

So why not worry? It’s an attempt to do the impossible. And that’s not a worthy use of imagination. (We’ll have to talk about worthy uses of the imagination later.)


How to Stop Worrying

Posted in Friendly Philosophy

Idea: The core of worry is imagining yourself outside the present.

I’ve been obsessed with the topic of imagination recently. This is partly because I realized that imagination is central to worry. You imagine something happening to you (or involving you) in the future, and feel distressed about it.

I don’t know how to not feel distressed about something. But I do know how to stop imagining. Specifically, to imagine yourself outside the present, you have to pay less-than-full attention to what you’re presently seeing and hearing.

Why? Imagination takes the parts of your brain involved in seeing and hearing,1 but uses them for pretending to see and hear things that aren’t there. So, if you focus those parts of your brain on your present environment,2 they’ll be too busy to imagine. And if you can’t imagine, you can’t worry.

But why would you want to shut down your imagination like this? We’ll have to talk about that later.


Spotify Playlists Are Good for the Soul

Posted in Friendly Philosophy

Idea: Some ways of presenting and listening to music create community, and others don’t (as much).

One of the great things about radio is that it sounds different from MP3s (or CDs, or records, or whatever). When you listen to a song on the radio, you hear it as something lots of other people in the area are also hearing at that very moment.

Radio, therefore, is good for the soul. It’s a broadening, communal, shared experience. Unfortunately, this means that “mass media” presentations of music need broad appeal, and individual old you may not like what’s on. So, you need your own private collection. But when you listen to a file on your computer, it’s just you. All alone.

But Spotify playlists–which you can create and share1–are something in between listening to the radio and listening to your private collection. They’re like the mixtapes/CDs of old.2 When you listen to such a playlist/tape/CD, you hear it as something you and others (whichever of your friends were also given a copy) are listening to “now” as well. The “now” is a bit looser than is true with the radio,3 but it’s still communal.

And that’s good for the soul.


The Problem of Evil in the Bible

Posted in Friendly Philosophy

Idea: The Bible has no solution to the Problem of Evil (and that’s a good thing).

I claim God’s speech in the Book of Job — the one about it being impossible for humans to understand God — is a critique of Job’s friends. They thought they had God figured out: God must be punishing Job for his sins! But God’s conclusion is that Job’s friends were wrong, and Job hadn’t said anything wrong about God1 (in spite of all his challenging and complaining).

I also claim people misunderstand Jesus’s “solution” to the problem of evil. Here’s how I think John 9:3-4 should be translated:

Neither this man nor his parents sinned. But we must do God’s work in daylight if that work is going to be visible/seen. Night is coming when no one can work.2

Instead of offering glib answers to the problem, then, the Bible (1) praises a guy who complains about it, (2) tells people who think they’ve got God figure out that they’re wrong, and (2) tells everyone to get to work helping instead of speculating.


Math Isn’t a Language

Posted in Friendly Philosophy

Idea: People hate math because math is not a language, but everybody says it is.

Gallileo said that the “book” of nature “is written in the language of mathematics.” But mathematics isn’t a language. Mathematical signs don’t have meanings like linguistic signs. They have rules that govern how you can move them around and replace them with other signs. Mathematical signs are like pieces on a chessboard, not like words.1

I know, Wittgenstein said that (most) linguistic signs have their meaning based on their use in “language games.” But if by that he meant that linguistic signs function like pieces in a game of chess, he was just wrong. Or, rather, he was confusing linguistic signs with mathematical ones.

The problem is that no one teaches students to think of mathematical signs like pieces in a game. No one teaches kids to play math. So, students get stuck trying to understand or read mathematical problems as if they were learning a foreign language. But math isn’t a language. So, instead of having fun playing mathematical games and solving mathematical puzzles, students end up miserable.

For more on the various types of signs, see my article in The New Yearbook for Phenomenology.