This afternoon I came up with a mildly impractical plan to get everything done that needs to be done this coming week; I made up a schedule and colored it in with crayons. I sat down to read Kant’s Prologomena so that I could write on it, and successfully read the first ten pages or so. Then my brain rebelled, I started thinking mostly on myself and meta-cognition of the effects of metaphysical science upon human thought, namely my own. I checked my email, had to go get something from the grad office, and have poking about ever since.
Sometimes I have to remind myself that I do, in fact, still know how to read. I’ve read many times before. I’m reading now. I haven’t suddenly become illiterate. Look: I’m complaining about my apparent newfound illiteracy in writing; nobody’s going to buy that! Ok, so that’s not the problem, I think. What is, then? Why can’t I read for more than half an hour at a time? Because my choices of reading material are Kant, Hume, the Bible, or Shakespeare. This shouldn’t be too hard to figure out. I object obstinately: I’m smart! I know I’m smart! Sure, whatever — but I can’t look at my own thought processes without getting stuck in absurdity, and metaphysics is always turning the mind in upon its own processes. The moderns (in our case Descartes, Hume, and Kant) are especially bad about this, but Aristotle does it as well. It;s like trying to see one’s own face without a mirror. II find this kind of thought immensely frustrating, and tending toward intellectual paralysis. Then I come up with psychological explanations therefore on some kind of conscious/subconscious model, or something else, and I waste much time and energy on a kind of self-diagnostic: why can’t I read anymore? Why do the words seem to bounce off my forehead, and fall as water through a sieve? I say: look, it’s not that much reading, and I have plenty of time. What am I doing with my time, anyway? Trying to not think about metaphysics?
The difficulty is, my reactions are disorderly and inarticulate, so I’d rather ignore them and hope they go away. But that would be a waste of a class, so I’d best make at least an attempt.
I try meta-cognating, and find that the longer I look the more confused things get, even in simple matters. I’ll hear a psychological theory, and try introspecting on it: left and right brain interactions? Introversions vs. extroversion? A “thinking thing”? “A priori” Reason? I go on and on in my head, trying to organize experience according to one of these plans. It doesn’t work. Experience is too messy. It’s messy, but we can still see into things — Hume is wrong about that. But what is it we can see into? My mind doesn’t just work in any way or on any thing; metaphysics and bureaucracy, for instance, can throw a wrench in the process. But… process? Is that what I’ve experienced? I’ve heard people talk like that about what their minds are doing, and it makes me edgy. It turns everything in upon oneself. I’ve heard people talk a good deal about intuition and discernment, too — sometimes well, but more often that turns the self in on itself also, and I soon can’t make any sense of anything. Even church has tendencies in this direction — even where the teaching is good and true. If I think about even some of those things too hard it’s as though there’s nothing outside myself: if something someone does bothers me it’s a problem with myself — I should find out what it is about myself that makes me react as I do. That is, I’m sure, mostly true and helpful within reason, but in conjunction with doubt, howsoever it might be denied, of the reality of the other, it can become just crazy. It’s like thinking too hard on one’s own intelligence. I had never known that people did that as more than an amusement until I went away to college, and found that sometimes it matters. But then one might be tempted to ascribe causality — he said that because he’s smart, or dumb, or thoughtless. That’s not a description, but a cop-out or a boast. I’m not talking about myself, I want to say — I’m talking about Lucretius or Hal or beauty or wisdom.
But there’s doubt: perhaps what I’m experiencing is not a particular kind of thought in the world around me, but the subconscious alternation of conscious introversion and unconscious extroversion, in accordance with the definition of the one as a relation to the object wherein every object is subsumed in the identity of the subject, whereas in the latter the subject loses its own distinct identity through absorption in the object. So I try to explain my experience that way. It’s not about the world out there, really — it’s about unconscious and subconscious and pineal gland and right brain and left brain and linguistic histories and constant conjunction.
Thus, Chesterton’s lunatic. I’ll indulge that kind of thing so far, and so far only. I’ve had some conversations this past year of: if I’m offended then it’s my fault, and I should look inside and find out why I’m offended, and if the other I (the I I was talking with) is annoyed than that I should look inside and find out why that I is annoyed. This is a no contact verbal sport we’re playing. I kind of want to shake something — not the other I, because that I is neither particularly offensive nor annoying — but something. It’s relationships according to Humean philosophy: there’s only internal causation. The causation is all in my mind, whatever that is. The lovely thing about, for instance, Jane Austen novels, lies precisely there. Nobody says or does anything especially dramatic, but the things they say and do reflect upon their characters straightforwardly, and the author and other characters can rightly know something about that other person, and not only themselves, from the exchange. I might offend you by actually being offensive, and there need be nothing convoluted about it. There’s something to be said for that.
I tend far too often to psychologizing myself into my own thought processes until I find that I actually have nothing to say about anything but myself, and know well enough that it mostly produces irritation, confusion, and apathy. I do that at church events: I’m not reacting to this as I ought — there must be something wrong with me, rather than with the expectation that there’s a certain right way for me to react. I think this education stuff is crazy — it must have something to do with my temperament and psychological make-up. I read a poorly written but emotionally suggestive book — I must just not be looking at things fully enough; perhaps if I analyze it some more I’ll overcome my own temperamental and educational biases. Aristotle is difficult to read — it must be on account of all the forces at work upon my psyche at this moment. It certainly cannot be the case that Aristotle is just being obscure,
There’s something to all that internal examination, of course — my reasoning isn’t uninfluenced by experience, temperament, culture, upbringing, and whatever else. All the same, I think in much better order when I can, with some confidence, assert that, no, I don’t dislike rap and like hymns because of psychology. The one really is more beautiful than the other. And, no, I’m not Christian because of psychology. I’m Christian because of God. And should I ever call a waterfall sublime I most certainly do not mean that I’m having a sublime feeling. I am not glad of southwest clouds for partly obscure personal reasons, but because they are beautiful. I am, as it happens, every bit as much a looking thing as a thinking thing.