The Nutty Nut and the Wild Slut (2)

Posted on June 22, 2017

The picture of the first episode in this series of posts was clickbait, so I have a suspicion that more than three of my FB friends have read The Nutty Nut and the Wild Slut (1). I am feeling my way into this, to find out how this play has to go on. No, this is not a male fantasy about kinky sex. It is about attraction, yes. It is about the polarity between the sexes, about intimacy between human beings. It is about serious stuff, stuff that we have to talk about, stuff that we should dwell on together.

The picture above is of John Searle, one of our brilliant philosophers. In his work he wants to give an account of how human reality, the way we view ourselves as mindful, social, political, aesthetic, language-using beings, can be made consistent with an understanding of the world as a chemical-physical system. Searle’s problem is how to relate the first person view of the world with the third person view. One of the questions he has pursued is: is a science of consciousness possible, and what would such a science have to be like? This is an important question.

What Searle is trying to do, in all his work, is to find a foundation for first-person being in third-person being. If this program would succeed, could ever succeed, then it would give us the philosopher’s stone of the derivation of what ought to be from what is, the foundation of how we ought to live in the objectivity of our lives. According to the Scottish philosopher David Hume such a thing is impossible. Trying to derive an ought from an is, is what philosophers call “the naturalistic fallacy”. The meaning of my life must emerge from the first person view, and it can never be constructed from the third person picture that others can paint of me.

Searle argues that this is not so. According to him there are two varieties of the objective/subjective distinction. First, we can carve things up epistemically, by considering the kind of knowledge we can have of something. Searle distinguishes between epistemic claims that hold objectively (they have the status of matters of fact, truths about the world), and epistemic claims that hold purely subjectively (they describe how we look at things). A claim of the first kind would be I know that John Searle was born in 1932, a claim of the second kind would be the confession I know that I am attracted to Ms X. But there is also a second way of carving things up: some things, like mountains, have an objective nature, other things, like tickles and itches, have a subjective nature. What Searle proposes is to use the scientific approach for carrying out an epistemically objective investigation of ontologically subjective states.

Searle is a deep thinker, not afraid to grapple with the hard philosophical problems. Also, much to his credit, he admits it if he believes that these problems are left unsolved. I admire his honesty in this. He honestly admits that the big philosophical problem of free will is unsolved. Our first person view of ourselves as decision makers considers each decision we make as us taking our pick from a variety of options. Thus we define ourselves through our actions. By and through our choices we decide on the kind of person we aspire to be. So we most certainly experience a sense of freedom in making our choices - some important, some less important - that constitute our lives. But how can we make this sense of freedom consistent with the third person view? How can we align this with what science tells us about the causal structure of the world?

It seems we cannot. The process of making our decisions must itself be merely the outcome of chains of causally determined physical events, events that we may be unaware or only dimly aware of. It is a matter of incompatible perspectives, really. We must proceed as if our acting in the world is autonomous, but if we take the objective view we suddenly suspect that everything we do is causally determined. So free will seems to be an illusion. And if it is an illusion, it must be an illusion of a very peculiar kind. It seems like a necessary self-deception. According to Searle, it is a deception, for he believes it is not true. It is necessary, for we cannot carry on in life without it. However we think about Searle’s analysis, we cannot deny that these are thoughts about important stuff.

There is also an embarrassment about John Searle, about his attitude towards young, attractive female students, about his perspective on the academic teacher-student relation. According to credible accusations made against him, he has overstepped boundaries that he should have respected, on various occasions. This has got him into big trouble. The Wild Slut did mention it in the first act of our play. Searle, for all his brilliance, must be deeply confused about the nature of intimacy, about the how of establishing connection with another human being, about the pitfalls and the glories of it. The worst thing that could happen to a man overloaded with academic honours, respected by friend and foe alike as a deep thinker, has happened to him. He has fallen in disgrace.

Now he has this very ugly lawsuit going against him, and against the University officials who tried to hush things up for him. A lawsuit in the American style that we know so well from the movies. Casting the legal net as widely as possible, it claims damages “including loss of earnings, emotional distress and medical costs, and other damages”. Comments all over the internet. Ugly. And Kafkaesque.

Searle has it right, partly, about the nature of consciousness. Consciousness just is. Consciousness is not a thing that can be simulated. The brain also just is. But is that statement about the brain just as true as the statement about consciousness? If consciousness just is, then everything appears in consciousness, even the brain, the body, everything that I call me. But then the body is not me, and I am not my body. My body appears to me, I can view it, reflect on it, I can imagine I leave it. Who is the I that is dwelling in my body? Like the captain on the bridge of a vessel? But does that captain also have a body with an I inside, an I that stays in the body of the captain, and that can leave in the end?

I can let consciousness expand. First I imagine, just imagine, that I am my body. I feel my body from the inside. I can look at my body from the outside. Next I start to include the room that I am in. Think of that as me, too. After all, everything I perceive in the room appears to me, it appears in consciousness. These perceptions are my perceptions. I will never fully know what the room looks like to you. This is my room, and mine alone. This is my world, and mine alone.

You are also in your room. I am not nuts, so I know that I am not unique, not the only person in the world, or on this planet. There is also a you. You are the second person. The second person can be of the same gender as the first person, or of a different gender. The first person can be attracted to persons of the same gender, or of a different gender. Likewise for the second person. There are two genders. Some people are not satisfied with their gender at birth. Some people do not like it to consider themselves as sexual beings. Many shades and tastes here.

I can view myself as a sexual being. I am at ease with my male gender, and I am sexually oriented towards females. But what does that mean? What is the nature of the attraction, of the need to be in deep contact with you, the second person, as a woman? Wouldn’t it be a lot easier to pretend that gender and sexual attraction do not exist? My guess is that for most men this is easier than for most women. Why? Because the dice of our culture are loaded in our favour, really. Our culture was sculpted largely by men, so we, the males, have organized things in ways that were most convenient for us, or so we thought.

The key game in Western society is life as a third person adventure, where I-as-a-third-person compete(s) with others-as-third-persons. The aim of the game is to get a large share of the common pie, as large as I can manage to carve out for myself. Things could have been organized differently. Give everyone roughly equal shares of the pie, say as a guaranteed basic income. Relax. Have lots of spare time to just be. Or use that time to clean up, together, the mess that we have created, together, with all our competition.

That would make very good sense, but it cannot be, because it would be so much less fun for us alpha males, keen as we are on endless competition. Until we can step out of it, together, and be much better off, together. This is something that we, the males, cannot do alone. For this we need inspiration, guidance, support from fearless women, from women who have healed themselves and who now can guide us, the men who also want to heal ourselves, pointing the way for us to more meaningful lives.

(to be continued)