some very cobbled-together takeaways from a philosophy festival
My housemate invited me to something this past weekend called "A Night of Philosophy and Ideas" at the Brooklyn Public Library, “an all-night marathon of philosophical debate, performances, screenings, readings, and music.” I had no expectations of it and I almost didn't go, but I'm so happy I did because it was absolutely fascinating.
Essentially, it was like an academic Coachella—it was 12 full hours (7 pm on Saturday to 7 am on Sunday) of philosophy lectures; you could go to themed “stages” in different sections of the library to hear acclaimed professors and researchers speak. There was food, music, a bar behind the checkout desk, circus performers, art exhibitions, and photographers. It was one of the most wholesome and mentally stimulating Saturday nights I've had in a while.
It was surprisingly difficult to determine the key demographic; there were a lot of what appeared to be serious intellectuals and academics, but there were also a lot of people my age. But everyone was really into it, which was a really exciting environment to be a part of.
I attended three 30-minute lectures, the very last at 1:30 in the morning, and all of them were great. They all explored things I was genuinely interested in—psychoanalytics, memory, and existentialism. I didn't personally know any of the speakers, but these guys are pretty much the rock stars of global philosophy. Which means arguably some of the best thinkers in the world. Which is wild.
I'm sharing some of the most interesting takeaways from each, AKA some pretty premium food for thought:
are we done with psychoanalysis? (isabelle alfandary)
I was especially interested in this one, because I believe that psychoanalysis is highly valuable even as an inexact science (you can read my thoughts on it here). But if the architecture of the mind presumably determines and explains all courses of action, then it's reasonable to assume that psychoanalysis, or the excavation of unconscious thought, is the basis of understanding all of human behavior.
psychoanalysis is based on a mere hypothesis
Freud never actually rejected the scientific method, despite the fact that many people consider psychoanalysis to be a "soft science" of lesser merit than the practical and/or tangible sciences. In fact, he used it as a framework for psychoanalysis, necessary because of the gaps in the data of consciousness. The purpose is to understand, not experience, the unconscious and thus psychoanalysis can only be approached indirectly through manifestations, like slips of the tongue, also known as Freudian slips.
psychoanalysis relies on the agency of speech
In theory, a patient's entire subconscious was readable through his speech, and this is why much of psychoanalysis is simply talking, with the analyst asking questions to prompt the patient into exploring his own mind.
"Words were originally magic and to this day words have retained much of their ancient magical power."
it's all in the details
Psychoanalysis was interpreted as the careful reading of fleeting experiences, and so every detail was thought to be filled with repressed meaning. This is why one of Freud's key strategies was to analyze dreams—he believed that the subconscious could be coaxed to the surface and interpreted through attention to detail.
sex is key
Freud determined an economy of impulses; essentially, that pleasure lies at the origin of life and that the concept of "normality" doesn't exist within the context of the psyche. He determined that disorder and chaos are our natural state of unconsciousness. Shockingly, people were skeptical of his obsession with sexual desire as the root cause of all human behavior, and viewed sexual expression as a threat to society.
should we remember the right to forget? (jean-louis fabiani)
This one was on the power and moral obligation of collective memory to prevent further tragedy and/or the rise of corrupt power, i.e. another Hitler. I've always been fascinated by memory, but as our democracy continues to decline under this presidential administration, it's worth considering how memory plays a role in shaping our perspective of the past and the direction of our future.
there is a natural tension in forgiving/forgetting
Some claim that we should remember past horrors as a way to honor our origins, even our most shameful ones; that forgetting is a "second murder" and memory is a strategy for survival, else we are doomed to repeat our mistakes. But others argue that we should leave the past as it is and now allow it to impose on the present.
collective memory is an exercise
It's a powerful nation-building tool (e.g. Holocaust remembrance), but it can also be a burden or a commodification of the past, which can distort truth. Memory is deeply flawed and imperfect and malleable, and human rationale can cause people to erase memories for their own ideological benefit. Individual memory works by forgetting out of psychological necessity. If we lose the ability to forget, we lose the ability to construct our own stories.
memory = identity; the control and ownership of your personal narrative
Do we owe it to ourselves to remember? We should embrace the power of selective forgetting; the strength of tradition overpowers memory, but forgiving and forgetting are inexplicably linked. There is a difference between simply forgetting and learning to forget.
nietzsche and buddhism (samir chopra)
This one was probably my favorite. While Nietzsche's and Buddha's most famous core philosophies (nihilism vs. universal compassion) first appear at odds, this lecture argued that they share a common thread of thought: criticism of a decadent society.
both philosophers rejected absolutism
Buddha and Nietzsche were suspicious of claims of absolute truth; they believed that the best way to approach the human existential condition was to practice methods of constructing ways to deal with it. They thought that attempting to discern the reason for human existence was a waste of effort, and that religion was nothing more than speculative fiction ill-equipped to address the problems of the common man. Both preached an acceptance of suffering. For Nietzsche, it was his love of fate, and for Buddha, it was the first of his Noble Truths.
"But you will see for yourself that much has been gained if we succeed in turning your hysterical misery into common unhappiness."
the philosophy of life is not to find truth, but to live
Unlike Freud, both Buddha and Nietzsche rejected substance metaphysics, or the idea that everything had underlying meaning. In their view, the world just is, and as humans we can only figure out how to exist within the context of it. The invention of the self is pointless in an ever-changing world, and in fact, investment in the idea of the self is not only egotistical but what actually drives us crazy in attempts to find meaning in fiction. Rather than an "I" acting out of individual agency, we are simply responding to our environment, by sensing and feeling.
It's a common misconception that Buddha was against desire. He stated that desire is the cause of suffering, but he also believed in understanding what desire actually is, and applying practical limits to desire, what Professor Chopra called a "pragmatic contextualist."
I hope you found these interesting! As a whole, it was a really rad night. I'm already excited for next year, and I will be more prepared with a phone charger, comfier shoes, and a shot or two of 5-Hour Energy.