Saturday, March 19, 2016

Socrates, Descartes, and Marie Antoinette Walk into a Bar Salon

If you are alive today, and are in any way interested in intellectual matters, we probably would have thought we lucky to have come across one another to do more than think and write and fix and do things, we might sit down and wonder what we might really do if we put our brains together to tackle the understanding of Dabrowski's Theory of Positive Disintegration and the public's growing curiosity about it in a definitive way or we could marvel over the level of detail in Disney's 55h feature animated film Zootopia ... 

Charles Darwin showed how some emotional phenomena are present in remarkably comparable ways in nonhuman species; William James and Carl Lange advanced an innovative proposal to explain the processing of emotions; Sigmund Freud turned the emotions into the centerpiece of his often singularly twisted inquiry on psychopathological states; and good 'old Charles Sherrington tinkered around with a neurophysiological investigation of the brain circuits involved in emotions. 

Think about the early discussions Sherrington had with anyone would would listen to him? I wonder how many of those goodhearted gals and fellas were too busy to hear what he had to say, totally disinterested in going outside their comfort zone to even hear what he had to say, or simply incapable of taking off with him, through the keyhole. 

If Socrates, Descartes, and Marie Antoinette walked into a bar salon, an all-out attack on the subject of emotion, right there and then, would commence. Socrates would give an exhaustive, resolute explanation of characteristics only recognized when first experienced inside -thus, unheard to an audience. Descartes would blame himself, he'd plunge down that rabbit hole, head first. He'd only stop for tea if he could then think about the stopping for tea and its relation to thoughts theretofore previously never considered, and therefore necessarily worthy of examination, if only for the novelty, which is a must for the flourishing of a mind held hostage in a brain. 

What would Hilary Putnam have to say on the special subject of the brain-in-a-vat and the absence of trees in this artwork? Whatever it was, Socrates and Marie would have drowned out the sound of the discussion with their friendly, lively, and enjoyable discourse. 

It's no wonder Hilary et al got their little feelings hurt and turned around and under the loosely held group called neuroscience gave a resolute two fingers up to emotion research. 


True, the psychoanalysts never quite got over it, but a few pharmacologists and psychiatrists concerned with disorders of mood, and their twin cousins: a lone psychologist and neuroscientist, scientifically engineered an interest in the subject so that they'd have a place to share their shots on the subject; err, I mean, "thoughts" on the subject.   

Girl Selling Cupids, 1763
Joseph-Marie Vien

Traveling to the head of the Académie Royale in Rome, we look to this larger than life pilasters decorated scene of a beautiful aristocrat woman sitting in the center golden chair, her companion stands behind her as both women give their full attention to the young girl who sits on the floor with a basket of cupids. She shall select the cupid, and chooses the one with the blue wings. The little cupid itself extends his arm, wishing to follow his taste for the lightness of rococo with the grandeur of classical style. 

And what will Little Blue-Winged Cupid find? 

Innovation, emulation, and even resistance, revealing tension at the very heart of the creative approach. And thus returning full circle to Socrates, Descartes, and Antoinette's discussion on the noble states of human emotion. 

@_@ Wow. I'll have what she's having. LOL

Rather than invite judgment, which would have only raised a ruckus, ending in a row, the trio settled in for the evening to consider the mind's natural language, the errors in translating it, and what we can do about it, in terms of extracting as much nectar of the gods as is humanly possible from the experience without overtaxing the human mechanism. 

I hoped to hear more of what they had to say on the subject, and seated myself at the end of the bar with a shot of tequila before me, amen. My stage was set and they returned to their discussion, but I did get a welcoming, attentive, and generous audience when I laughed at the implications of a particular conversation they had on just which map they should consult when navigating the labyrinth of emotions to an imaginary land one calls the dwelling place of the human mind .... 

Yes, Descartes, all these years later people can't help themselves, they're still searching for what it is that operates from within or travels through affecting the proverbial landscape. 

Cityscape (1956)
M.C. Escher

Just as expected, all three were eager to engage in a conversation, pose questions, make suggestions, and offer corrections (at this moment, Descartes and Marie pointed toward Socrates, who smiled knowingly in return). In several instances I caught Socrates smiling, the seemingly endless knowing smile he often flashes. With the exception of his personal biases, most of which he is aware or can easily pinpoint when in new territory, he's annoyingly correct. 

Descartes would just squint his eyes as if filtering out the light in his mind's eye. And Marie, she was too busy attending her flock and writing out her correspondence to concern herself with such details. 

Ten short minutes later the situation was radically different. Not long after Descartes conceded to Socrates, did Socrates look to Marie as an example of how to live the good life. To have time to imagine, to dream, to wonder ... set in an edenic landscape, perched upon a hill under a beautiful shady oak tree whilst the children frolic about, skipping stones across the lake, tormenting (only slightly) the ducks who waddle about in toe. 

The natural language of the mind turned their attention to the necessity of each and every human expression, and whether or not hierarchy could be assigned to anything other than personal taste. The subject was greeted with a new attention. Marie was particularly engaged in this lively discussion, and brought petit fours to fuel the mind's insatiable need to expend the higher volumes of energy necessary to disconnect positively from the experience of living to consider the art of it. 

Descartes and Socrates struck up a side conversation on the relation between emotion and reason, both offering exhaustive explanations of every nuance conceivably imagined, only Socrates was able to keep his place in the dialogue without the aide of notecards to find his way back from visiting a tangent. 

Descartes made a joke about keeping record of the categorical twists and turns so that he might later return to the subject, categorize and analyze and publish yet another book on the subject of how one goes about traversing and coming back full circle from a tangent, which he admitted was the basic plot in his book, only readers made it about the subject matter. 

Hopping over the boys' loops of reason, Marie offered a novel idea: How about we leave let alone, and rather than disturb it, commonly assume it is working well so that we might instead turn our sights to novel information, allowing ourselves to fully experience the enterprise of receiving new information before the reason rushes ahead of us telling us what we're seeing and why we're seeing it that way, forever clouding an otherwise sunny disposition. 

She had a good point, I thought. Despite the raised eyebrows Descartes offered, Socrates was game, and the three settled in for what looked like would be a charming, witty, tantalizingly surprising debate. If one were a painter, they'd probably place objects of curiosity about the image, in a right in front of arcadia-type of scene, suitable for reasoning, but in some superficial versions of the work disinterested in human suffering, except for that which is self-imposed. 

There are others who prefer the topic of suffering, but those hopeless romantics heard what they described was a magic pipe being played by a well dressed man in multicolored clothing and they immediately turned around and followed him out of the bar. Last heard they were headed out in search of the legendary town of Hameln. 

Clearly the emotions are not a substitute for reasoning, but in some superficial versions they sure do make a lot of noise, and if you follow them instead of your reason, who knows where you'll end up. 

Precisely, chimed in Marie. 

And for that reason, Socrates, the Trojan-hearted war hero stands guard. To be sure, even Marie's squirrels and birds responded to external threats without thinking anything out of the ordinary for doing so. In effect, the bar was situated in a little refuge, surrounded by animals, adorned by bouquets of flowers. The sole lovers of Marie, upon whom she swooned each and every afternoons she could escape the many requests for her presence. 

A pure pleasure pavilion for her favorites, out of the public eye ... quiet living where friends, children, and on occasion, her suitors could be entertained. Indulging passions for tapestry-making, and rejecting the trappings of royal status, everything was just so, according to how Marie wished it to be. 

And how did she wish it to be? 

Charming, naturally. A place where a personal vision could be discovered in an unspoiled, verdant paradise of the kind so dear to her contemporary, the romantic genius of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. In him she recreated the unaffected, country life became her muse through which she walked, dreaming of her personal vision of the natural world. 

Descartes found it utterly charming, and indulged in a remodeling of his own landscape, while Socrates, lied on his side, perched up on one arm, thinking ... while slowly sampling a feast of petit fours Marie left for his delight and enjoyment. 

Marie sought to recreate the landscape of her mind's eye, in doing so gossip flourished. The City Officials passed a decree claiming authority to close down the bar in which she, Descartes, and Socrates invited all willing creative intellectual sorts privileged access. Why only the other day a very disagreeable man ranged against the establishment a whole coterie of ill will, having everyone believe the renaming was a blasphemous act, thus. 

Ignoring him entirely, Marie, Socrates, and Descartes resumed their conversation, surrounded with a living, natural scenery. To this end, they devoted themselves to overseeing work on the subjects at hand, writing to their friends about their intentions. 

All were delighted with the new idea plantings and engaged enthusiastically with their friends. 

With the unpleasants at bay, Marie focused first and foremost on her garden. She did not enjoy the considerations associated with Gabriel's architectural masterpiece, deferring those thoughts to the more industrious among her guests. Instead, she was concerned with the so-called "lesser" arts, the legendary landscape she felt necessary territory to house such a grand and novel philosophical adventure. 

She recruited those with a passion for agriculture to plant for her a living testament to her sense of style, to a style in which human sentimentality naturally flourishes as a gift of gratitude for the few moments in which she too might enjoy the space. While she respected the structured design of avenues and formal flower beds, they bored her. She didn't so much want to tame the landscape, but to see it flourishing. She devoted herself to searching out the rarest exotic plants and shrubs. 

Descartes graciously offered to devote himself to the deeper consideration of the botanical garden and its scientific approach, while Socrates, had now managed to get up with the aim of strolling through any part of the garden where his mind could tell him he was instead in the middle of a wild nature, free from the confinement of the royal greenhouses. 

Enchanted by the accidents of nature, Marie's gentleman gardners set to work, despite some reluctance on the part of the finance minister to cover the costs, which were judged excessive. Such was the price Marie felt should be justly paid, if only for the privilege of enjoying such delights. 

Why should such an obscure story of the mind's natural language as told by Socrates, Descartes, and Marie be of interest to a world more concerned with the trappings of how? 

It shouldn't, but it makes for entertaining consideration, if only for the author and those who visit her retreat, which she embellished with a "natural" beauty belonging to that of her beloved hamleau, the paradisial playground she adored. 

Happily wandering about her Temple of Love, in the dappled shade of two weeping willow trees, with paradise apples growing in the garden, white pelote de neige roses, and liliacs and lavender, little ideas were launched, on everything from natural encounters to thoughts thereon. 

This little bar into which Socrates and Descartes stumbled, was that of the gracious Marie, who could engage in lively debates with the best of them, but only so long as to not bore polite company, which she often felt was more appreciative of her petit fours than of her intellect's rational discourse. 

That was, until Socrates and Descartes came along. They enjoyed both. And with this pairing, a new fashion for intellectual gardening was born, and the ladies of California were eager to follow suit. 

And with that, Marie set out to work in which appeared on the surface as childish behavior, simply to entertain her new guests. 

Decades later, after this legendary event, descendants of Socrates, Descartes and Marie began to think radically different. Some ventured in search of understanding their feelings, some went off in search for how those feelings came into being, and those in America and Europe turned their attention to other matters, such as designing iPhone applications to cultivate subjects that required little mental attention to consider. The more industrious of the group set out on capitalizing on the secrets and became wildly popular. 

In the end, they walked out the doors of the bar, stood upon the precipice between emotion and reason, and jumped into a neighboring flowerbed, without regard for reason or overwhelming sentiment as a driver of human behavior. 

Precipice 2014

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