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December 01, 2003

Coming to Grips With Nietzsche, Part II

Michael:

This is the second part of my series of postings on Nietzsche. (You can read the first part here.) Having laid out his ultimate “goals” in the first posting, I want to sketch out the intellectual program that Nietzsche undertook to provide support for his ultimate goals.

As you recall, Nietzsche felt that the demise of Christianity, which was speeding up in his era, was leading to a crisis of nihilism. He saw that the collapse of the central pole, so to speak, in the intellectual structure of the age would cause people to doubt all meaning and all values—to believe in “nothing.” And this belief in nothing would lead to a sort of suicidal depression that would be felt most keenly by the era's leading spirits. He felt it was urgent to replace the no-longer tenable Christian interpretation of the world and its associated hierarchy of values with a different interpretation, both to forestall nihilism and because he felt his new interpretation would speed the evolution of the individuals who would eventually give birth to a more life-affirming world-view.

However, replacing the Christian world-view was easier said than done. By Nietzsche’s own estimate, notions that ultimately derived from the Christian world-view and its associated hierarchies of value were threaded throughout European culture, from the most abstruse speculations of philosophy to the most “down to earth” aspects of language and science. Where was one to start in untangling such a wide and subtle web?

One of Nietzsche’s methods was to write an essay in a series of short “fragments” or "sections" in which he touched briefly on many different aspects of an overarching subject. In each fragment he adopts a reductionist position, showing that what at first appears to be an unrelated set of phenomena actually shows (on closer examination) an underlying unity. He thus simultaneously creates a chain of argumentation while making it clear that the examples chosen could be multiplied many thousands of times over, because the pattern he was describing is omnipresent.

It must be admitted, of course, that this method makes it easy for lazy readers—like me at the age of 20—or intellectually unscrupulous readers—like some of our leading postmodernists—ignore the context and continuity of his argument. Heck, it’s fun to seize on one of his striking intellectual formulations and treat it as if it popped up in a vacuum. But I would assert that this is the wrong way to read Nietzsche. The strongest impression I’ve had in re-reading Nietzsche is exactly how sustained his argumentation actually is.

Let me give an example of this by walking you through an overview of the first chapter or essay of his book, “Beyond Good and Evil.” The chapter is titled, “On the Prejudices of Philosophers.” It is divided into a series of 23 short numbered sections, the longest being several pages in length.

In it Nietzsche has three highly inter-related themes. The first is that all forms of metaphysics can be reduced to religion (which, in Europe, meant the Judeo-Christian tradition). The second is that philosophy more generally can be reduced to morality, and morality in turn to the needs of various human groups and types; in short, human thought, no matter how abstract, is instrumental. One’s brain is like one’s liver—i.e, neither is an end in itself, but rather both are at the service of more fundamental biological agendas. The third theme is that even modern science is by no means free of the taint of metaphysical and religious interpretations, and that it is both possible and desirable to re-interpret natural phenomena in terms of Nietzsche’s theory of the will to power.

Nietzsche opens his discussion with two questions that he leaves, for the moment, unanswered: what is the ‘will to truth’ that motivates philosophers to develop their theories? What is the value of this ‘will to truth’? (Of course, the rest of the essay is his answer to these questions.)

He then introduces his first theme--that all metaphysics reduces to religion--by describing the low opinion metaphysicians have of the physical world, this locus of delusion and evil, and how they can only conceive of ‘good’ descending into it from a higher, more real, more true plane. He contrasts this view with his own, which is that ‘good’ evolved (here below) from precisely those aspects of reality metaphysicians consider ‘evil.’

He then introduces his second theme by denying the autonomy of conscious thought:

…[B]y far the greater part of conscious thinking must still be included among instinctive activities, and that goes even for philosophical thinking. We have to relearn here…[that] “being conscious” is not in any decisive sense the opposite of what is instinctive: most of the conscious thinking of a philosopher is secretly guided and forced into certain channels by his instincts. Behind all logic and its seeming sovereignty of movement, too, there stand valuations or, more clearly, physiological demands for the preservation of a certain type of life.

One hundred and seventeeen years after he published this, trained by Nietzsche’s (unconfessed) disciple Freud, we no longer find it terribly revolutionary to suppose that much of our mental activity—even the dominant part—is unconscious. But then he continues with one of those sentences that makes him sound so, well, post-modern:

The falseness of a judgment is for us not necessarily an objection to a judgment; in this respect our new language may sound strangest.

You've got to admit, that sounds pretty postmodern-nihilist until we get to the very next sentence:

The question is to what extent it is life-promoting, life-preserving, species preserving, even species-cultivating.

These statements taken together constitute one of those striking formulations by Nietzsche that really needs to be read in context—and in the specific context of his war on metaphysics and religion. The metaphysicians that he is attacking would assert that a judgment is valuable insofar as it is "true," by which they mean it corresponds to the True World, not the contingent, delusional, false world here below. Nietzsche is saying that because no True World exists, the question of value has to be radically rethought. If all judgments represent the “physiological demands for the preservation of a certain type of life,” then the value of a judgment has to be evaluated by the "quality" of the human type being preserved and promoted.

Nietzsche continues by noting that philosophers aren’t very honest. They pretend to have reached their conclusions by rigorous logic, while in fact their ideas are most often desires of the heart that have been filtered and made abstract, and then defended by reasons thought up after-the-fact. He suggests that one can usually determine how the most abstruse notions of a philosopher come about by seeing what sort of morality the philosopher promotes, which, Nietzsche suggests, is connected intimately to what inner drive of the philosopher is his dominant one.

Nietzsche goes on to give two examples of how this works. The first concerns the philosophy of Epicurus, who wrote 300 books of materialist philosophy out of irritation at the grandiose and theatrical metaphysics of the school of Plato; Epicurus was attempting to exalt down-to-earth honesty and straight talking. The second is the case of the Stoics, who, after achieving ‘tyrannical’ control over themselves, wished to extend that control to the world with their claim of wanting to ‘live after Nature’—according to Nietzsche, they wanted Nature to live after them.

After these brief examples, Nietzsche turns to the specific case of German idealist philosophy. His first segment on this topic emphasizes his first theme, the reduceability of metaphysics to religion. He demonstrates this by performing a psychological analysis of idealist philosophers. (It should be remembered that idealists were the dominant philosophical school at the time he wrote.) These philosophers were so skeptical of sensory data that they are willing to deny the existence of their own bodies. Nietzsche suggests that their repulsion at modern, materialist notions is the result of a desire to regain their dearest metaphysical possession: their immortal souls.

Nietzsche then flips back into his second theme, that philosophy is ultimately reduceable to the physiological needs of groups or types of human beings. He illustrates this by training his guns on the head of the idealist school, Kant, who was the most influential philosopher of the German-speaking world in Nietzsche’s era. In particular, he focuses his criticism on Kant’s notion of synthetic a priori judgments.

Kant originally developed the concept of such judgments in response to Hume’s skepticism about metaphysics. Hume had argued that correct statements about the ultimate nature of reality depended on having correct facts—facts which humanity had no access to. Consquently, according to Hume, rationally one would have to remain agnostic about any particular metaphysical statement. Kant was unwilling to abandon metaphysical philosophy, and developed a counter-argument based on an analogy with mathematics. He felt that it was possible to make statements in geometry (for example, that the interior angles of a triangle add up to 180 degrees) that were not dependent on empirical verification (hence, in his terminology, were a priori) and yet were also not simply the logical consequence of their own formulation as they contained new and substantive information (hence, were in his terminology, synthetic.) And if in mathematics one could make statements about reality that were both logically certain and yet substantive without deriving from empirical data, Kant felt it should be possible to make such statements in other fields as well. Kant in fact felt he had discovered such synthetic a priori judgments in science. He considered that notions of time, order and Euclidean space were of this nature, as they preceded empirical data and constitued an essential framework for the understanding of this data. Most importantly, from his point of view, this line of argument opened the door for philosophers to make such logically certain and yet substantial statements in the realm of metaphysics. (For a more detailed discussion of Kant’s synthetic a priori judgments than I have space to provide here, check out this one.)

Nietzsche attacks Kant’s reasoning by analogy at its root, by denying that geometric reasoning produces conclusions about reality that are substantive and absolutely certain. He regards the correspondence between such purely mental systems as mathematics and logic on the one hand and reality on the other to be at all times 'merely' (i.e., non-metaphysically) provisional and pragmatic. Moreover, he finds the ubiquity of what Kant terms synthetic judgments a priori in human thought to be a result of the limitations of the human brain, and not because the synthetic judgments a priori correspond to conditions in nature. Nietzsche strongly suspects that with enough empirical experience, in fact, we will find that synthetic judgments a priori do not correspond to the nature of all aspects of reality:

…[W]e are fundamentally inclined to claim that the falsest judgments (which include the synthetic judgments a priori) are the most indispensable for us; that without accepting the fictions of logic, without measuring reality against the purely invented world of the unconditional and self-identical, without a constant falsification of the world by means of numbers, man could not live—that renouncing false judgments would mean renouncing life and denial of life… [S]uch judgments must be believed to be true, for the sake of the preservation of creatures like ourselves; though they might, of course, be false judgments for all that! Or to speak more clearly and coarsely; synthetic judgments a priori should not “be possible” at all; we have no right to them; in our mouths they are nothing but false judgments.

Here, of course, we have to take note of Nietzsche’s peculiar use of terms. “False” in this case would seem to mean “not only impossible to prove as True (in the metaphysical sense) but perhaps someday to be shown as demonstrably untrue (in the empirical sense).” But despite how easy it is for the intellectually unscrupulous to misuse his dramatic but overly-sweeping terminology , it is important, I think, to interpret such statements in light of Nietzsche’s larger goal. He was gunning for metaphysics (and religion) and wanted to demolish the categories in which metaphysicians tend to think. All such intellectual constructs that claimed to represent Truth with a capital “T” (like synthetic a priori judgments) seemed to him to be infected with metaphysical notions about the True World and the way in which it differs from this deceptive world here below. Nietzsche fights back rhetorically by branding such notions not merely unprovable but “false”--and yet, unlike metaphysicians, without feeling it necessary to disapprove of them as a consequence.

Likewise, I think it is important to note that Nietzsche is not adopting an anti-rational position when he uses language like “the fictions of logic”—one should remember the value he placed on all notions that were “life-promoting, life-preserving, species preserving, even species-cultivating”—a category that certainly included logic, mathematics, and related concepts. (It didn’t bother him in the least that notions of time, or geometry, or logic might be--in fact, probably were--local and contingent rather than transcendently necessary.)

In any event, having declared his contempt for Kant’s explicit reasoning, he goes on to dissect the implicit ‘desires of the heart’ that led Kant to such thinking, and finds that they were at root religious and intended as a corrective to the “still predominant sensualism which overflowed from the last century [i.e., the 18th century] into this [the 19th century.]” Rather maliciously, Nietzsche finds that the real social intention of German idealist philosophy was to serve as an intellectual sedative—an intention which he feels it largely accomplished.

Having taken a few potshots at idealist philosophy, Nietzsche then takes up his third theme on how even science has been tainted with metaphysical notions via a quick look at several aspects of contemporary scientific thought. First he examines “materialistic atomism” (i.e., the atomic theory of 19th century chemistry) and finds what he considers to be a metaphysical concept happily enshrined at its center. To wit, he finds that the 19th century atom, conceived of as an indivisible particle, as an ultimate, unchangeable “thing in itself” bears a striking (and in his mind, suspicious) resemblance to the Christian notion of the immortal soul. Second, he looks at Darwinian theory and finds it telling that Darwin sees the ultimate drive as being that of self-preservation. He suggests that his own notion of the will to power is both a more fundamental principle and large enough to effectively contain the drive to self-preservation, and hence should be preferred on the grounds of intellectual economy. Thirdly, he asserts that physics (and by extension, all physical science) is actually merely an interpretation of the world, not an explanation for it, but for the present will be considered an explanation because this suits the rather crude needs of modern man:

Where man cannot find anything to see or to grasp, he has no further business”—that…may be the right imperative for a tough, industrious race of machinists and bridge-builders of the future, who have nothing but rough work to do.

While Nietzsche is far more well-inclined towards modern science than to German idealist philosophy, it is clear that he sees the same processes at work here as in philosophy—that is, his analysis finds no difficulty reducting its ‘advanced’ thought to the physiological needs of a particular human group. Clearly he finds modern science to be an interpretation of reality that expresses the needs of the 'common man.' Hence, he urges its reformulation in terms of ‘will to power,’ so that modern science will also enhance the prospects for the development of the next stage in human development, the ‘over-man.’

Nietzsche then spends several sections developing a sort of variation of his second theme on the reduceability of abstract thought to more fundamental physiological needs. Here he develops the notion of language as a sort of highly influential, if unconscious, link between ‘higher’ mental activity and the physiological needs of the community. He begins by taking a close look at the assertion—advanced by Descartes—that in philosophy one can rely on at least some 'immediate certainties.' Nietzsche examines the famous “I think, therefore I am” argument of the French philosopher and finds it loaded with unexamined metaphysical assumptions. Chief among these are (1) that someone or something is doing the thinking in question, in other words, that the notion of thinking automatically implies a thinker, (2) that whatever or whomever is doing the thinking is the same entity that is aware of the thinking, (3) that this same entity is, in fact, the well-known ego, what we commonly mean by the term “I”, or in this case, Rene Descartes. Nietzsche suggests that these unexamined assumptions arise from what amount to metaphysical assumptions inherent in language:

One infers here according to the grammatical habit: “Thinking is an activity; every activity requires an agent; consequently—"

Here the ‘grammatical habit’ that Nietzsche refers to is the expectation that subjects (nouns) and predicates (verbs) will go together. One can’t have a predicate without a subject in a grammatically correct sentence, so Descartes assumes that the predicate (thinking) requires a subject (a thinker). This sort of assumption is flying so far below the radar that Descartes doesn’t notice that he—or perhaps the language he is speaking—has assumed the very thing he is trying to prove. Nietzsche then goes on to expand on this notion of a “grammatical habit” by examining the links between families of languages and families of philosophies:

The strange family resemblance of all Indian, Greek and German philosophizing is explained easily enough. Where there is an affinity of languages, it cannot fail, owing to the common philosophy of grammar—I mean, owing to unconscious domination and guidance by similar grammatical functions—that everything is prepared at the outset for a similar development and sequence of philosophical systems; just as the way seems barred from other possibilities of world-interpretation. It is highly probably that philosophers within the domain of the Ural-Altaic languages (where the concept of the subject is least developed) look otherwise “into the world” and will be found on paths of thought different from those of the Indo-Germanic peoples…the spell of certain grammatical functions is also the spell of physiological valuations and racial conditions.

By the way, Nietzsche is not making the postmodernist argument here that language ‘controls’ the nature of what one thinks or even restricts what one can think. If this were true his analysis of Descartes argument wouldn’t have been possible. He is simply noting that if one doesn’t question the philosophical ideas implicit in language itself (and hardly anyone, even philosophers of his era, did), one will be importing into one’s thought a whole set of unexamined assumptions.

Finally, Nietzsche finishes up with several sections on the ways in which metaphysical ideas have corrupted and confused psychology. These sections manage to touch on all three of his themes. Beginning with the first theme, the reduceability of metaphysics to religion, he notes that despite the number of times ‘free will’ has been refuted philosophically, it has survived because of its central role in Christian morality. Switching to his third theme, the need to reform modern science in light of the 'will-to-power,' he closely studies the sensations associated with willing, and finds that the standard psychological concept of will being a single ‘act’ undertaken by a single ‘actor’ is mistaken (and a consequence of the corruption of science by metaphysical notions). He sees the act of willing as something closer to a multiparty political system. He even proposes that the will should, scientifically speaking, be studied as a moral phenomena, because an individual’s morality is the result of the internal power struggle between the various ‘wills’ that exist in each person. This leads to his final treatment of the free will vs. determinism debate: that neither position is true, because psychologically it is not a matter of ‘free will’ or (even more illogically) ‘unfree will,’ but rather a matter of strong wills vs. weak wills. He then resumes his second theme by noting that when thinkers are addicted to concepts such as constraint, need, compulsion to obey, pressure and unfreedom generally, they reveal their background (which is, to speak bluntly, low.) He finally begins the transition to the next section of his book by adumberating his theory of the reciprocal dependence of the good and evil drives in humanity, and why the creation of more life-affirming world views may require the enhancement not only of the virturous drives, but also of such factors as hatred, envy, covetousness and lust to rule.

I hope this summary, as lengthy as it is, of only one section of Nietzsche’s book “Beyond Good and Evil” gives you some sense of his philosophical method and the range of subjects he touches on in his work. (Trust me, what you've seen here is by no means all.) I hope it is obvious, even from this small fragment of his work, that Nietzsche’s analysis is often as penetrating as his opinions are outrageous. And finally, I hope that I have successfully communicated that Nietzsche is not simply the creator of brilliant and outrageous phrases or gem-like but isolated paragraphs, but that his argumentation is far more sustained and consistent than might appear at first glance.

In my next posting I’ll try to lay out where I think Nietzsche has been particularly critical for my own thinking.

Cheers,

Friedrich

posted by Friedrich at December 1, 2003




Comments

Fascinating again, thanks. Some questions and musings for ya. With an emphasis on the fact that it's been (eek) nearly 30 years since I read Nietzsche.

* He seems to have felt that the Christian thing needed an extra shove. True? Why, do you suppose? Given that it was going anyway. In a spirit of, well, it's on its last legs, so let's just get rid of it now?

* Did he ever show much appreciation for the way the Christian thing did (however imperfectly) serve human needs?

* I could be misremmbering here, but wasn't "Zarathustra" his attempt to create a kind of replacement religion/mythology? I'm always suspicious of conscious attempts to create mythologies, which in my view tend to arise on their own. Did he have misgivings about being an individual trying to will a mythology into being? Maybe not: he may have been trying to will himself into being a prophet.

* I have a hunch that, after 130 years or so of idiotic quasi-religions trying and failing to fill in the gaps left by a collapsing religious sphere, that something more solid is finally taking shape. We're seeing bits and pieces of it in things like "A Pattern Language" and Ramachandran -- a firm grounding for something positive. Science-ish, if maybe not entirely scientific. Maybe it took the spasms of the ''60s and post-'60s to clear the ground for this. What's your hunch? I find it very exciting, and I marvel over the fact that the arts worlds either take virtually no note of it or are actively hostile to it. After all, it's a development that could actually confer meaning back to the arts, after over a century during which the arts tried to asssume meaning by waving flags in the midst of all the meaninglessness.

* Hey, now that I think of it, Nietzsche was a natural-born blogger. Which I don't mean entirely to be cute. I think blogging is a fascinating development in the history of writing -- perhaps a more "natural" way for a writer to express his observations and thoughts than ever before.

* I'm one of the superficial people who largely enjoyed Nietzsche as a stylist, humorist and bomb-thrower. But even if that is superficial, the style, humor and bomb-throwing are still there. In what way do you think they contribute to his meaning?

* It's interesting to think of philosophers as a kind of interest (or even lobbying) group, rather like doctors, teachers, or ethnic groups. I wonder what the Public-Choice bunch would make of them.

* Still, there's always that element of wiggle room, as you note: most thought is a function of self-interest, much thought is expression of unconscious drives, etc ... Which means that perhaps some isn't. I suppose I'm just being sentimental here, but it's always seemed to me that the fact that wiggle room does exist changes the nature of the equations, in the same way that it might if you were an engineer. You can assume perfection and design and build a machine as though that were possible (and then watch everything go to pieces in the real world), or you can allow for the fact there's going to be unforeseen things and wiggle room, and design and build for that. Seems to me that the machines you'll come up with will be very different ones, depending on which outlook you take. Does Nietzsche ever discuss how the existence of a little wobbliness in the system effects the nature of the system?

* I'm looking forward to a FvB explanation of what the hell Nietzsche meant by "will to power." I've always been confused by the term. Sometimes he seems to be discussing a kind of conscious and determined struggle; at other times he seems to allow for the fact that it might be happening anyway, whether we're paying attention to it or not.

* His use of "will" always perplexed me too. Any enlightenment on this? Usually I take "will" to indicate a conscious determiation to do something. And maybe part of what I struggle with in Nietzsche is the way he seems to slip and slide back and forth between "willing" as a deliberate thing and "willing" as in, oh well, I guess that's how life works.

* Scruton admires Nietzsche terrifically but (if I remember right) refers to him as a kind of devil figure. After all, once you start looking for the unconscious and biologicial agendas behind what philosophers are up to, what's to stop you from asking the same question about Nietzsche? Any hunches about what, in his own terms, he was up to?

* Probably childishly, I've always been struck by the way Kant's categories -- the various built-in ways we seem to process information and thinking -- remind me of the "adaptive modules" of sociobiology. And there are theorists around today who discuss the nature of language -- how storytelling seems embedded in the structure of language. So perhaps these all indicators of how we come equipped into the world. Perhaps these are the only ways and the only tools with which we can experience life. Would Nietzsche have trouble with this? Did he think there's a need to transcend this kind of thing?

* It obviously raises the question of who's doing the experiencing. Is that how he arrived at his idea of the Eternal Return? Looking into Vedanta, which believes in reincarnation, has got me thinking about Nietzsche some. If I understand right, Vedanta answers the "who's doing the experiencing question" this way: that you aren't the one doing the experiencing, that instead it's the Larger Thing that's experiencing you. Hmm, let me try to clarify. Picture the ocean. That's the gigantic Everything. "You" are a wave on the ocean -- a phenomenon. You think you're experiencing life, but in fact you are simply an epiphenomenon, an aspect, of what life is experiencing of itself. Part of what I find appealing about this is that it moves the experiencing Self out of the individual. (Actually it kind of semi does away with the individual entirely, which it seems to see as a transient aspect of the larger One.) I don't know why I'm rattling on like this. Oh, right: Nietzsche and the Eternal Return. Anything similar in his theory of the Eternal Return to Vedanta's ideas about Self and reincarnation? As far as I can tell, reincarnation is an inescapable conclusion if you accept the basics of Vedanta. Perhaps the Eternal Return is inescapable if you buy Nietzsche's givens.

* I'm just a fan of these things, but I've read recently about how there are funny correpondences between math, music and the structure of nature. There are indications that, for instance, the energy levels that make electrons jump from one orbit to the next correspond to such musical basics and fourths and fifths. (Aha, the Greeks were right in thinking of music as "the harmony of the spheres.") And apparntly mothers everhwhere singsong to babies using the same set of intervals. All of this jibes with Christopher Alexander's argument in "The Nature of Order" that there is a kind of order implicit in space itself . And it jibes with Nikos Salingaros' point that, from a scientific point of view, there are only certain kinds of order (a very small number) that can generate life. Play these games and you might well come up with something living. But try any of the other games and you'll necessarily come up with dead space. How do you think the bunch of them would get on?

* I guess my own difficulties with Nietzsche, fan though I am, boil down to this: that he seemed to feel compelled to enact his prescription. He noticed that the religious sphere was collapsing -- and he felt he had to give it an extra shove. He theorized that some new mythology was needed to fill in the vacuum -- and he felt he had to come up with that mythology. He couldn't notice something without trying to will his way into the action -- or rather he didn't seem to see these two activities (taking note vs. climbing into the ring) as two different activities. I suppose he'd try to subvert my argument here by poitning out that "taking note" is an activity and that if you're going to be active you might as well Be Active. But I'm not sure that invalidates what I'm saying. On the other hand, I seem to have a fairly contemplative nature, so maybe all I'm doing is expressing it. (Vedanta suits me partly for this reason. Vedantists are forever having discussions about such topics as "effort and grace" -- ie., how do you remain active while not entirely losing yourself in the activity ...)

Looking forward to more.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on December 1, 2003 4:29 PM



Hey, a couple of fun, and I hope appropriate, quotes from a book I'm thumbing through right now, Bryan Appleyard's "Understanding the Present."

"To sustain its effectiveness, science insists upon a universally open-ended view of the world that accepts and embraces the permanent possibility of change and progress. At any one time scinentific man can only regard his knowledge as provisional because something more effective might come along. He may construct private absolutes of faith or morality, but in public he must inhabit a fluid, relative world ...

"The same applies to his spiritual condition. He may define his own identity and purpose in life, but he must do so in the knowledge that other identities and purposes have been chosen and must be respected as equally valid as long as they conform to the broad norms of behavior of the liberal society. He cannot even tell his children with any conviction that they must believe what he does because it is true...

"The obvious point about this is that it makes it progressively more difficult to sustain either a morality or a spiritual conviction ...

"It is tempting for liberal apologists to see this bewildered condition as a specific state, but rather as the normal human destiny. All men, say the liberals writing their own history backward in time, have suffered this bewilderment. But, even in recent history, it is clear that his is absurd....

"This leads on to the second point about the spiritual condition of scientific liberalism. Because it offers no truth, no guiding light and no path, it can tell the individual nothing about his place or puporse in the world ...

"Tolerance becomes apathy because tolerance initself does not logically represent a positive virtue or goal. So the tolerant society can easily decline into a society that cares nothing for its own sustenance and continuity. The fact that the democracies constantly seem to ahve a crisis in their schools is important -- it is a symptom of a crucial uncertainty about what there is to teach, about whether there is anything to teach."

Interesting book. I wonder what Nietzsche would make of it.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on December 1, 2003 4:44 PM



Michael:

Here are some answers to the first seven of your questions. I'll try to have another go at the rest asap.

He seems to have felt that the Christian thing needed an extra shove. True? Why, do you suppose? Given that it was going anyway. In a spirit of, well, it's on its last legs, so let's just get rid of it now?

I think his fear was that if he didn’t intervene, Christianity would morph into something that lost the obvious supernatural element but still worked as an expression of the physiological needs of ‘mass man.’ In short, something very much like social democracy. As a prediction of what happened over the next one hundred years in Europe it strikes me as pretty prescient—as opposed to the predictive track record of, say, Marx.

Did he ever show much appreciation for the way the Christian thing did (however imperfectly) serve human needs?

He appreciated Christianity absolutely, on the one hand, and not at all, on the other. He considered Christianity to be a kind of medicine for the average, normative, suffering human. And he considered that the “bad conscience” inculcated by Christianity (i.e., the way it hounded people to abandon the qualities of natural, primitive, “beast of prey” man) was crucial to civilization and higher culture because it ultimately forced these drives to discharge themselves inward, to spiritualize or sublimate themselves. In short, he acknowledged that Christianity had made man far more intelligent, subtle, shrewd and human—even if it entailed an immense loss of power and health in the process. But he seemed to consider that this work was now done, and that the values that Christianity embraced, which he considered based on the resentment of the ill-favored masses towards the superior person, were holding up the progress of humanity toward yet higher goals. There just might have been a touch of personal animus in such a judgment: he was, after all, the son of a Lutheran minister and the grandson of two more Lutheran ministers.

I could be misremembering here, but wasn't "Zarathustra" his attempt to create a kind of replacement religion/mythology? I'm always suspicious of conscious attempts to create mythologies, which in my view tend to arise on their own. Did he have misgivings about being an individual trying to will a mythology into being? Maybe not: he may have been trying to will himself into being a prophet.

I don’t think he thought of it as a mythology, rather a statement of the positive part of his program (as opposed to the analytic, critical part of his program.) In terms of my own responses, I’ve never found it as interesting or compelling as his ‘mean-spirited’ criticisms. But you may be on to something with your notion of him wanting to be a prophet; I remember that he remarks at one point that Plato’s ultimate goal had been to found a new religion (which I think hits Plato’s nail firmly on the head) and such mediumistic insight may well have had autobiographical roots. Of course, as prophets go, Nietzsche didn’t do too bad; his prediction of an increase of nihilism. of the transmutation of Christianity into secular value systems and of a rapidly coming period of great wars were all pretty good predictions. Also, his 'prediction' that the synthetic judgments a priori would be undermined by greater empirical knowledge got me to thinking how Kant would have reconciled his notion of substantive yet logically certain ideas about the world with such 20th century 'facts' as non-Euclidean gravitationally 'curved' space, of compressed or expanded relativistic time, and of the various paradoxes seen constantly in quantum mechanics.

I have a hunch that, after 130 years or so of idiotic quasi-religions trying and failing to fill in the gaps left by a collapsing religious sphere, that something more solid is finally taking shape. We're seeing bits and pieces of it in things like "A Pattern Language" and Ramachandran -- a firm grounding for something positive. Science-ish, if maybe not entirely scientific. Maybe it took the spasms of the ''60s and post-'60s to clear the ground for this. What's your hunch? I find it very exciting, and I marvel over the fact that the arts worlds either take virtually no note of it or are actively hostile to it. After all, it's a development that could actually confer meaning back to the arts, after over a century during which the arts tried to asssume meaning by waving flags in the midst of all the meaninglessness.

I assume you mean by “something more solid” a better foundation for the arts than the Modernist Project. (I doubt “A Pattern Language” will fill the need for religious meaning in life for most people.) I have no clue as to why the arts establishment seems to resist this emergence of what might be termed natural spiritualism, unless they’ve all “sold their souls” (so to speak) to the Modernist project and it’s “post-modern” temper tantrum. (More on this in my next post.)

Hey, now that I think of it, Nietzsche was a natural-born blogger. Which I don't mean entirely to be cute. I think blogging is a fascinating development in the history of writing -- perhaps a more "natural" way for a writer to express his observations and thoughts than ever before.

Nietzsche’s style of writing does indeed seem rather similar to blogging. Of course, it would have to be the blogging of a someone constantly trying to flesh out certain ideas. Do you think that the very outrageousness of his opinions served as an anchor for his tendency to think in “fragments”?

I'm one of the superficial people who largely enjoyed Nietzsche as a stylist, humorist and bomb-thrower. But even if that is superficial, the style, humor and bomb-throwing are still there. In what way do you think they contribute to his meaning?

I don't think enjoying Nietzsche's literary style is superficial; that's probably at least half of the pleasure of reading him. Nietzsche himself spoke of the correspondence between his own style and his substance; I’m sure he felt that his malicious wit, his cruelty, was his most dominant drive, along with—somewhat paradoxically—an instinct for thankfulness. And he speaks of such “spiritualized” cruelty as the essential component of the ‘will to philosophy’—the willingness to cut into your own conventional thinking, to sacrifice your own comfortable illusions—ultimately so as to enjoy the pleasure of handling the scalpel and the sight of your own blood, so to speak. And if his own cruelty led him astray, philosophically…well, he would have considered that an unavoidable risk. To not realize the inmost nature of your character because it might lead to 'error' would have struck him as the ultimate in nihilism.

It's interesting to think of philosophers as a kind of interest (or even lobbying) group, rather like doctors, teachers, or ethnic groups. I wonder what the Public-Choice bunch would make of them.

Nietzsche was big on the social utility, so to speak, of philosophy. He felt that the duty of the philosopher was to articulate, to make conscious, the physiological “table of values” that underlies a particular style of ‘will-to-power,’ and to thus allow a whole “tribe” or “group” of people to become more intensely themselves. I would think that public choice types would consider that an entirely appropriate activity.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on December 1, 2003 8:08 PM



I thank both of you Blowhards for your endeavors here.

Maybe you'll be getting to this at some point, Friedrich, and if so, then I apologize for jumping the gun--but up to this point, I think that you have greatly overstated the differences between Nietzsche and his postmodern heirs. "Where there's smoke, there's fire"--and in this case it's an inferno. I think that, in your (understandable) haste to applaud Nietzsche for going after Plato, you have allowed the great anarch to lull you into accepting his portrait of Kant as a "dried stick".

But Kant was far more than some nerdy apologist for Idealist metaphysics. His critical philosophy provides with a real basis for intersubjectivity, which can function independently of the kind of absolute knowledge that Platonists have had to insist upon these past two millenia. Yes, Kant often wound up sounding rather like the kind of absolutists he was in fact supplanting, but thinkers such as Jurgen Habermas have demonstrated that critical philosophy can survive quite nicely without any of the trappings of certainty.

I don't think Nietzsche was very successful in his attempt to eliminate the quest for the absolute--I think he just renamed this quest the "will-to-power", making Gods of men, instead of eliminating God altogether. What is missing from his formulation is a firm basis upon which to establlish any sort of relationality--which is why I view Nietzsche as just another in a long line of misguided monists (albeit a very entertaining one)--and this monism has been the scourge of our century, resulting in such diverse evils as ethnocultural politics (always on the verge of graduating to fascism), self-help books, and Michel Foucault.

There's no reason to let Nietzsche off the hook for these things. He asked for it. He was trying to create a new world. And boy, did he ever. Personally, I like Emerson and Kierkegaard (romantics who did not give up on the Enlightenment) a great deal more.

David

Posted by: David Fiore on December 1, 2003 8:09 PM



“Vedanta answers the "who's doing the experiencing question" this way: that you aren't the one doing the experiencing, that instead it's the Larger Thing that's experiencing you. Hmm, let me try to clarify. Picture the ocean. That's the gigantic Everything. "You" are a wave on the ocean -- a phenomenon. You think you're experiencing life, but in fact you are simply an epiphenomenon, an aspect, of what life is experiencing of itself. Part of what I find appealing about this is that it moves the experiencing Self out of the individual. (Actually it kind of semi does away with the individual entirely, which it seems to see as a transient aspect of the larger One.)”

I like this a lot. It can be applied to Christianity although I would probably be considered a heretic. I like the view of it when taken from the perspective of “Life” as a whole. Life is experiencing itself through me. You can also look at it from the perspective of being an extension of life.

The last time I had a moment like the above, I was taking a physics class and I was trying to visualize all of the known physical forces acting on me. Which lead me to the realization that while I am comfortably sitting at rest I am actually moving 1000 miles an hour as the earth turns on its axes. That speed is dramatically increased when you consider how fast the earth is spinning around the Sun. And then your speed of travel is dwarfed when compared to how fast our sun is spinning around other suns. Now think of this in terms of all the Universes. A Ferrari has got nothing on me. And yes, it’s not my imagination, I am going in circles.

Posted by: ShipShape on December 1, 2003 10:56 PM



Well done on the subject, content, and writing. A good read. Blog's like this makes me glad I recommend this website.

Posted by: ShipShape on December 1, 2003 10:58 PM



For an idiosyncratic view of 'reality as dream' read James H. Schmitz's "The Witches of Karres". Look in used books stores or on The Web for a copy.

Posted by: Alan Kellogg on December 1, 2003 11:44 PM



i>Any hunches about what, in his own terms, he was up to?

This article (posted at wood s lot a few days ago, with the same quoted text as teaser) quotes Stefan Zweig on Nietzsche:

"He is shy, about five-foot-eight, but a little stooped, almost blind, reserved, unaffected, and especially polite; he lives in modest boarding houses in Sils Maria, Nizza, Mentone, Rome, Turin. Carefully the myopic man sits down to a table; carefully, the man with the sensitive stomach considers every item on the menu: whether the tea is not too strong, the food not spiced too much, for every mistake in his diet upsets his sensitive digestion, and every transgression in his nourishment wreaks havoc with his quivering nerves for days. No glass of wine, no glass of beer, no alcohol, no coffee at his place, no cigar and no cigarette after his meal, nothing that stimulates, refreshes, or rests him: only the short meager meal and a little urbane, unprofound conversation in a soft voice with an occasional neighbor (as a man speaks who for years has been unused to talking and is afraid of being asked too much).

"And up again into the small, narrow, modest, coldly furnished chambre garnie, where innumerable notes, pages, writings, and proofs are piled up on the table, but no flower, no decoration. Back in a corner, a heavy and graceless wooden trunk, his only possession, with the two shirts and the other worn suit. Otherwise only books and manuscripts, and on a tray innumerable bottles and jars and potions: against the migraines, which often render him all but senseless for hours, against his stomach cramps, against spasmodic vomiting, against the slothful intestines, and above all the dreadful sedatives against his insomnia, chloral hydrate and Veronal. A frightful arsenal of poisons and drugs, yet the only helpers in the empty silence of this strange room in which he never rests except in brief and artificially conquered sleep. Wrapped in his overcoat and a woolen scarf (for the wretched stove smokes only and does not give warmth), his fingers freezing, his double glasses pressed close to the paper, his hurried hand writes for hours -- words the dim eyes can hardly decipher. For hours he sits like this and writes until his eyes burn."

If nothing else, this brings to mind his obsession with the "healthy" and "strong".

I don't have any Nietzsche with me, I'm afraid, but I seem to recall hints that there were such persons etc., etc., who find the only way back to health was through opposing the unhealthy, sick desires of his weak body.

Posted by: PF on December 2, 2003 2:54 AM



I meant to italicize that first line, I'm sorry. I'm dealing with an intractable keyboard.

Posted by: PF on December 2, 2003 2:55 AM



Oh wow, this is indeed the post I was waiting for!

You have indeed captured the core of most of the mis-interpretation of Nietzsche when you state his true context and goal of finding something "life-promoting, life-preserving, species preserving, even species-cultivating” to replace Christianity and fill the nihilistic void that was sure to spring up with it's inevitable decline.

Unfortunately what sprung up was mostly different totalitarian flavors of deluded, involuntarily collectivist, Marxist-Leninst failures. Oh, and Wahabist Islam. Have a nice 20th Century indeed!

Most of Nietzsche's misguided pseudo-followers completely miss the "life-promoting, life-preserving, species preserving, even species-cultivating" part, rip the throat out of Christianity (or the local devotional religious tradition), and go right to the nihilism, with nary a thought as their whistling past the graveyard.

And dear god with Gen. Y we're finally seeing the results of the lefties Long March through the schools. The muddled thinking and PC groupthink is at fever pitch in the young. But the 911 tonic appears to perhaps be triggering a more liberty based backlash against it, so there's hope.

MvB, the best I can put it is that the Will to Power aspires to a state that in Buddhism or Vedanta would be a step or 2 below achieving complete union with Atman or Nibbana.

Nietzsche was looking at the question "What are the harmful effects of religious thinking, particularly as embodied in Chrisianity, upon the blissful development of Man?" Think of Christianity from a vedantic perspective as merely a flavor of devotional or Bhakti Yoga practice.

What bad memes has such a poisoned devotion promoted within our culture? What will then be the shape of the void left when it crumbles? What that's better can we fill it with? Wherein lies the maximal volutary group happiness function?

The Will to Power as a self-initiatory act is a grasping of those internal reins of the self, riding herd on the internal little Wills, and truly operating on the plane of the real. Various meditations and related disciplines help a lot in this.

But he was not after the goal of removal from the Karmic Wheel and hence did not seek to cultivate detachment from ends.

Think of a sort of Active Buddhism.

Shame that folks missed Marx's point about capitalism, due to it's voluntary nature a moral system, was the only true path to the Workers Paradise if sufficient immiseration of the Proletariat never occured. It didn't because labour unions and social democracy took the sting out, and now everyone's a capitalist via their 401k's.

I think of ole Nietzsche as a bitter would-have-been a flower child with some real spine in there :-)

Posted by: David Mercer on December 2, 2003 6:05 AM



Friedrich,
A great post and discussion. I was wondering how you were going to frame your exposition. Your reading of the chapter from BGE as itself an aphoristic fragment of the whole, like a hologram or fractal, is properly expedient.
I want to comment on two side points you make in your response to Michael, though.
(1) "The values that Christianity embraced . . . he considered based on the resentment of the ill-favored masses towards the superior person."
(2) "I remember that he remarks at one point that Plato’s ultimate goal had been to found a new religion."
The thrust of Toward a Genealogy of Morals (TGM), I believe, aims at proving the opposite of what you claim in (1). Nietzsche argues that the values that Christianity embraced were those of an aristocracy which was powerless in the face of a stronger aristocracy. It is intra-class warfare rather than inter-class warfare. For Nietzsche in TGM, the tenets of Christianity find their origin in an embittered aristocracy of clerics, scribes and thinkers, which he calls "the priestly class." Unable to assert physical superiority over a warrior class which subjugated them (i.e. soldiers and military, but also hordes of nomadic barbarians, think Atilla the Hun and Ghengis Khan), the priestly class waged a kind of class warfare against the warriors via morality and religion, and eventually won: the military now serve God and country. Nietzsche observed, however, that though this priestly ideology (i.e. Christianity), had taken hold in all of Europe, it was at the same time extremely detrimental to the survival of certain types of persons, from the aristocrats of the Ancien regime, executed by the democrats of the French revolution (thus robbing them of their dignity), to the untouchable members of the underclasses, what Marx called the proletariat. In other words, it led to complacency in the face of misery because it set people's eyes not on the horrible conditions in the world around them, but rather on an invented True world in which they were better than their superiors (the meek will inherit the earth). This is the point Weber picks up on in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, showing how religion is manipulated within and by capitalism, to spur production in the here and now by promising blessings in the after life.

With respect to #(2), I am almost certain that Nietzsche says (I believe in Beyond Good and Evil) that Christianity is Plato for the masses, which I think bolsters the point I attempted to make above.

In speaking of Nietzsche's relation to Christianity, as remarked by Michael, i.e. it is starting to fall and he wants to give it that final push, we should not forget that Nietzsche sometimes wondered whether he was not rather strengthening it, since the arguments he made against it would inevitably be countered or even appropriated by later Christian apologists. Nietzsche was well aware that if he did not succeed in killing it, he would only be making it stronger. In this respect, we see again how Nietzsche's project resembles a wager. I for one think Nietzsche was one of the most pious interpreters of Christianty (see The Anti-Christ), he is so faithful to its injunctions (ex. the striving after truth) that he is driven to destroy it where it is based on untruth. He remarks somewhere that he "puts on gloves" when he reads the New Testament. This can mean both that he does not want to get his hands dirty (like Pontious Pilate), or that the bible itself is clean and could be damaged by rough handling, or both.
I find that many of Nietzsche's readers compartmentalize his thought in a way that hinders better understanding of it. This is done by emphasizing one of his two main contributions to philosophy (the eternal return, and the will to power) at the expense of the other. If you think both together, you get the eternal return of the will to power.
Finally, for "Nietzsche in his own terms," as was mentioned, see Nietzsche's Ecce Homo, a kind of physiological autobiography.
Anyway. Apologies for longwindedness. Can't wait for installment the third.
Cheers.

Posted by: charles on December 2, 2003 7:43 AM



A propos of nothing but my own fondness for navel-gazing ....

Occurs to me that my main problem with Nietzsche is that he's such a pushy moralist. Very fond of him as a stylist, humorist, insightful, nutty guy. Love his critical digs. But when I try to take his positive-side-of-the-ledger stuff at all seriously I balk. Finally, I thnk, have figured out why. It's that he's always taking what to me is simple fact ("Life is ... breathing!") and turning it into moral imperative ("We must will our next breath!").

I find it a strange and funny tendency on his part. Does it bug you at all? It's such a pervasive tendency in his view of things that I wonder what it's about, or what it represents. I'm tempted to say that maybe this is just what a moralist does -- and I'm not that sympathetic to moralists. But maybe it's part of some program or attack of his that's fascinating in its own right: pounce on what's there and turn it into guidance! Or maybe it was just part of his general, cackling, surging theatricality.

My on view, for what little it's worth, is that 1) there are these built-in tendencies we have as people and organisms, 2) thank god we can finally talk about them and investigate them and do so out loud, 3) we're almost certainly better-off if we create institutions and forms and processes that are more rather than less accomodating to how we're going to play the game anyway, and 4) after that, it's up to the individual. I wonder if that makes me a herd-behavior kind of person in Nietzsche's eyes ...

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on December 2, 2003 10:21 AM



Michael:

Some more answers:

Still, there's always that element of wiggle room, as you note: most thought is a function of self-interest, much thought is expression of unconscious drives, etc ... Which means that perhaps some isn't. I suppose I'm just being sentimental here, but it's always seemed to me that the fact that wiggle room does exist changes the nature of the equations, in the same way that it might if you were an engineer. You can assume perfection and design and build a machine as though that were possible (and then watch everything go to pieces in the real world), or you can allow for the fact there's going to be unforeseen things and wiggle room, and design and build for that. Seems to me that the machines you'll come up with will be very different ones, depending on which outlook you take. Does Nietzsche ever discuss how the existence of a little wobbliness in the system effects the nature of the system?

Nietzsche is very big on the notion of what might be called unintentional consequences (in essence, the tendency of ‘will-to-power’ to burst out of any conceptual framework). The simplest example of this he offers is the paradox that religion (not nature) created the categorical demand that people should tell the truth; eventually, however, people got so committed to truth-telling that they stopped believing in religion. I’m going to talk about this tendency, which I believe he called ‘self-overcoming’ in my next post.

I'm looking forward to a FvB explanation of what the hell Nietzsche meant by "will to power." I've always been confused by the term. Sometimes he seems to be discussing a kind of conscious and determined struggle; at other times he seems to allow for the fact that it might be happening anyway, whether we're paying attention to it or not.

You might have to look forward to that explanation for a long time, as I can’t in all good conscience offer myself as an expert on ‘will-to-power.’ I think it useful to note the remark he made about physics: that it was an interpretation, not an explanation. I take that to mean that Nietzsche is saying we haven’t really ‘explained’ something until we’ve made it intelligible in human terms, which means asking ‘why’ something happens (not just ‘how’) and then actually getting an answer. (Science tends to dodge such questions by using the little phrase ‘as if’—I believe Newton couched his theory of universal gravity more or less as follows: “that objects behave as if they were attracted to each other by a force proportional to the product of their masses and inversely proportional to the square of the distance separating them.”) Nietzsche, who remarks somewhere that accepting reality means accepting the fact that for us everything will always be colored by our internal drives and desires, clearly is offering ‘will-to-power’ as an ‘explanation,’ not an ‘interpretation’ of physical reality—he deliberately anthropomorphizes physical phenomena. Your question about whether Nietzsche intended ‘will-to-power’ to refer to the conscious willing of the human brain or to an utterly unconscious physical process, a brute fact, would seem to have the answer: he meant both. Whether the ‘will’ of ‘will-to-power’ in question is part of our conscious mental life, or whether it is a gravitational or electrical field that ‘wills’ the conversion of positional energy into the movement of a particle, I think he considered these as the same thing, as these quotes may illustrate:

A living thing seeks above all to discharge its strength—life itself is will to power; self-preservation is only one of the indirect and most frequent results.

…[S]omebody might come along, who with opposite intentions and modes of interpretation [to those who speak of “nature’s conformity to law”], could read out of the “nature” and with regard to the same phenomena, rather the tyrannically inconsiderate and relentless enforcement of claims of power [although] he might, nevertheless, end by asserting the same about this world as you do, namely, that it has a “necessary” and “calculable course, not because laws obtain in it, but because they are absolutely lacking, and every power draws its ultimate consequences at every moment.

In short, he didn’t regard ‘consciousness’ as a barrier between mental phenomena and physical phenomena, since he is very explicit about tracing consciousness back to material origins.

His use of "will" always perplexed me too. Any enlightenment on this? Usually I take "will" to indicate a conscious determination to do something. And maybe part of what I struggle with in Nietzsche is the way he seems to slip and slide back and forth between "willing" as a deliberate thing and "willing" as in, oh well, I guess that's how life works.

Again, I think you are missing his determination to break down the barrier between consciousness and non-consciousness, both in the mental sphere and elsewhere. Every mental drive, and quite possibly every atom, has its own will-to-power, but eventually some achieve dominance and (at least temporarily) subsume the rest, and action can follow, although the subservient wills then assert themselves all over again. Nietzsche seems to have considered the brain a ‘commonwealth’ of mental factions, jostling for control, not a unitary entity.

Scruton admires Nietzsche terrifically but (if I remember right) refers to him as a kind of devil figure. After all, once you start looking for the unconscious and biologicial agendas behind what philosophers are up to, what's to stop you from asking the same question about Nietzsche? Any hunches about what, in his own terms, he was up to?

I think one of the more intriguing aspects of Nietzsche is that he wanted and expected you to ask those questions about himself. I think he offers many hints as to what he is up to: he views himself as having been made ‘sick’—physically and mentally ill—as a result of generations of Christianity (all those ancestral Lutheran clerics), and he finds that he is drawn to, and finds ameliorative, people or historical figures who have somehow avoided the sacrifice their animal vitality (unlike him) while also achieving a spiritual inwardness, a higher state of power (i.e., the ‘over-man,’ a category that very much did not include him.). I think he felt that given his simultaneous lack of animal vitality and physical health, and his possession of great intellectual power, that he was the perfect ‘test case’ for Europe and its typical ‘illness.’ His autobiography was everyone else’s future. (That sentiment alone is probably enough to send Scruton running.)

Probably childishly, I've always been struck by the way Kant's categories -- the various built-in ways we seem to process information and thinking -- remind me of the "adaptive modules" of sociobiology. And there are theorists around today who discuss the nature of language -- how storytelling seems embedded in the structure of language. So perhaps these all indicators of how we come equipped into the world. Perhaps these are the only ways and the only tools with which we can experience life. Would Nietzsche have trouble with this? Did he think there's a need to transcend this kind of thing?

I think the way your are understanding Kant is very much the way Nietzsche understood him—that Kant isn’t wrong that such categories exist and are critical to our mental processes, just locating them in the brain and not in the metaphysical nature of reality. I think Nietzsche is, by the way, if not the grandfather then at least the grand-uncle of evolutionary psychology.

It obviously raises the question of who's doing the experiencing. Is that how he arrived at his idea of the Eternal Return? Looking into Vedanta, which believes in reincarnation, has got me thinking about Nietzsche some. If I understand right, Vedanta answers the "who's doing the experiencing question" this way: that you aren't the one doing the experiencing, that instead it's the Larger Thing that's experiencing you. Hmm, let me try to clarify. Picture the ocean. That's the gigantic Everything. "You" are a wave on the ocean -- a phenomenon. You think you're experiencing life, but in fact you are simply an epiphenomenon, an aspect, of what life is experiencing of itself. Part of what I find appealing about this is that it moves the experiencing Self out of the individual. (Actually it kind of semi does away with the individual entirely, which it seems to see as a transient aspect of the larger One.) I don't know why I'm rattling on like this. Oh, right: Nietzsche and the Eternal Return. Anything similar in his theory of the Eternal Return to Vedanta's ideas about Self and reincarnation? As far as I can tell, reincarnation is an inescapable conclusion if you accept the basics of Vedanta. Perhaps the Eternal Return is inescapable if you buy Nietzsche's givens.

I am still less an expert on the Eternal Return than on ‘will-to-power.’ (If this raises questions about my qualifications for writing this post, hey, remember, you get to read this for free.) I think Nietzsche’s desire to put conscious thought back in its rightful place in the hierarchy of life (i.e., that it is not the crown and purpose, but rather one more organ, newly evolved and thus not very reliable) and to break down the barriers between the physical and the mental, life and non-life, does depersonalize the self. Or, possibly, it personalizes the universe. Which seems not altogether foreign to what you’re discussing.

I'm just a fan of these things, but I've read recently about how there are funny correpondences between math, music and the structure of nature. There are indications that, for instance, the energy levels that make electrons jump from one orbit to the next correspond to such musical basics and fourths and fifths. (Aha, the Greeks were right in thinking of music as "the harmony of the spheres.") And apparntly mothers everhwhere singsong to babies using the same set of intervals. All of this jibes with Christopher Alexander's argument in "The Nature of Order" that there is a kind of order implicit in space itself . And it jibes with Nikos Salingaros' point that, from a scientific point of view, there are only certain kinds of order (a very small number) that can generate life. Play these games and you might well come up with something living. But try any of the other games and you'll necessarily come up with dead space. How do you think the bunch of them would get on?

Frankly, quite well.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on December 2, 2003 12:00 PM



Great explanations, thanks. And looking forward to installment three.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on December 2, 2003 11:59 PM



About that "will to power" thing.

I've noticed a tendency in some to complicate things when they don't need to be. To see things a man said or wrote as deep, because he was 'deep'.

"Will to power." The desire to be a player, to have an impact upon the world, to change the world according to one's desires. The urge to be somebody important.

Nietszche wanted to be a player, he had the will to power. Until he had his breakdown, which is a traumatic event. I know this because I had my own.

"Will to power." The need to control events, to put one's self in charge. No need to invoke Nirvana or anything like that, only a simple need to be in control. Which, since it is so simple, obviously can't be the explanation.:)

Posted by: Alan Kellogg on December 3, 2003 4:55 PM



Alpha male.

Posted by: M. Simon on December 18, 2003 11:27 AM



interesting

Posted by: FREE PORN on May 29, 2004 7:22 PM






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