If only our minds could just click with each other

It seems that The Stone‘s contributors’ responses to readers’ comments are often better than their original posts themselves:

Philosophers typically try to illuminate with a combination of argument and (re-)conceptualization.  But the most careful and perspicuous argumentation, as indispensable as care and perspicuity are, will not convince someone who is disinclined to accept a philosopher’s way of framing a problem or phenomenon.  And, as the philosopher Stanley Cavell has stressed repeatedly, nothing guarantees that the arrogation of philosophical authority, no matter how well intended, will not turn out to be an act of mere arrogance.  In this way, in fact, philosophical expression and young women’s sexualized attempts at self-expression have something in common:  neither can be fully controlled by an author’s intentions, and nothing guarantees that they will come off in the way their authors hope they will.  –Nancy Bauer, “Authority and Arrogance: A Response”

Which, if you think about it, is what ails all human communication, but i think the problem is even more exaggerated when it comes to doing philosophy.  Philosophy is best done dialogically (because every argument requires counter-arguments to move forward, and the best counter-arguments come from those who have had different experiences than you have), and if your opponent cannot accept your way of approaching a problem or understand your intentions in communicating your ideas, the argument falls flat.  This is why philosophers, more than anyone else, need to find people who can understand the way they think and communicate in order to do their job.

Which makes me wonder, can real philosophy only be done between people who can “click” in this way?  I’ve spent many philosophy recitations frustrated and impatient because everyone had their own way of thinking, and each think-system was so disparate to the point where we were all on different wavelengths, trying to intersect somewhere, but usually failing miserably.  One person would require real life examples to contemplate any philosophical issue, and another would find such examples cumbersome and dangerously restrictive.  One would be engrossed in analysis, while another would constantly divert to meta-analysis.  One would subscribe to dualism, and another, to monism, and yet another, to pluralism.  No one would think to budge.  And why should they?  Their individual frameworks were the ones that helped them think about these issues.  But do you know what happens when such disparate individual frameworks gather in one room?  A question is raised, a claim is made, and a silence follows while everybody tries to evaluate the claim-maker’s think-system, ultimately rejecting it in favor of their own.  Repeat until time’s up.  You’re lucky if you get a single counter-argument.

Then there were the communication issues.  Half the time was spent on clearing up misunderstandings and clarifying what we really meant, and these clarifications usually distracted from the issue at hand, sometimes even derailing a discussion altogether.

Sure, it must have been a benefit to have so many different majors in the class, ensuring a diverse set of knowledges and interests.  The English Literature major and the Finance major always had different ways of addressing an issue, and they usually took issue with different things to begin with.  Different backgrounds probably helped as well.  But is such diversity practical for having an argument?  I mentioned before that the best counter-arguments come from those who have a different background than yours, because culture is powerful and it conditions us to think a certain way.  But when is diversity too much diversity, and how do you determine where to draw the line?

I remember one guy who thought exactly the way i did, that every word out of his mouth could just as well have come out of mine, that i knew that when both our hands shot up in the air, we had the same idea.  These specimens are extremely rare, but when you find them, they’re like a breath of fresh air—air that finally gets you thinking and motivates you to share your ideas.  Because at least someone in this world knows what you’re getting at and wants to get at it too.  Does this mean that philosophy is best done in pairs of individuals who “get” each other?  Or in a group of any size as long as everyone has a common think-system?  But how easy is it to find that many people who think like you?  And how unsettling would it be to be in the company of more than one person who thinks exactly the way you do?  It’d be like a fucking mind trip.

And finally, does a different culture/background/upbringing mean a different think-system or a different set of values or both?  And if it means both (which i suspect it does), what might be an easy way to empirically determine who might share your think-system?


Filed under academics, communication, philosophy

5 responses to “If only our minds could just click with each other

  1. worldin1450

    weird question unrelated to your post: when and how does wordpress generate “possibly related posts?” i have that for only one entry, and they are quite unrelated……….

    • n

      wordpress randomly generates them; usually tags and keywords in the post are taken into account. i don’t know why certain posts don’t have them; i know a lot of mine don’t. and i’m not sure if there’s a way to turn it off. one benefit of the feature is that it can bring you traffic if your post appears as a possibly related post on someone else’s.

  2. worldin1450

    Diversity in thinking is good, but there’s the problem of too much diversity that stalls progress. Is it why you always get inspired after our conversations? Because we are diverse yet it’s just the two of us, and exchanges go pretty fast.

    and what strictly speaking is a counter-argument vs. a different think-system, since if two people think different, and reject one another’s arguments, that sort of makes a counter-argument, does it?

    • n

      a counter-argument can only materialize when your opponent accepts, for the sake of argument, the way you frame a problem. for example, you might offer a hypothetical situation in which to consider the issue at hand. an individual with a think-system incompatible with yours might not be able to accept your hypothetical situation if it goes completely against the way he/she conceptualizes things. that said, such rigid incompatibility is rare in groups of individuals who are each fully devoted to philosophy.

      i think we have pretty different think-systems, but our conversations still inspire me because you give me a new way of seeing things, even if the argument sometimes does not progress as much as i would like.

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