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3/08/07

3:24 PM Discovered another author I hadn’t previously heard of. A Nobel laureate no less. Elias Canetti (link to author’s Nobel webpage). I’m interested in reading his Auto-da-fe.

3:34 PM Why, the fuck, is Reuters pronounced “Roiters”?

7:04 PM The inhumanity of man. (The article is graphic.)

8:58 PM Comfortable. Like a rat in a cage. Comforts of home are many and binding. Curiosity of what’s outside is intense and pulling.

Torn, tearing. A rope unraveling day after day, threat upon thread.

Glad what I wanted didn’t happen today. Had it happened I’d have wanted it to happen again tomorrow. If it doesn’t happen, a few days will go by and I won’t want it to happen anymore.

9:02 PM It’s hard – very hard – to find something to engage this racing mind. It’s always flying, sometimes within, sometimes to distant extremities. It’s never still.

9:16 PM From article:

On writing:

What people consider important varies according to their interests. In imaginative literature, for example, some authors take the broad sweep of history as their subject, while others take the minor fluctuations of a single person’s emotional state. (Only the very greatest, such as Shakespeare, successfully take both at the same time.) There is no way of deciding which approach is correct or better, though I have my preferences.

On semantics and explaining human behavior:

The fact is that, however many factors you examine, you cannot fully explain behaviour, not even relatively simple behaviour. And if you cannot explain relatively simple behaviour, how are we to explain the immense, indeed infinite, variety of human behaviour? How are we fully to account for the infinite variety and originality of human utterance, for example? (It is vanishingly unlikely that the last sentence, or for that matter this one, has ever been written before.) How does one develop a universal law that explains an infinite number of unique events that are infused with meaning and intentionality? It was on this question that the programme of behaviourism, that (as everyone now completely forgets, though it was not so very long ago) promised a complete and sufficient explanation of human behaviour, foundered.

A neuroscientist might reply that he is not trying to develop a theory that explains everything in detail, but only in general: that is to say, to explain the important and significant generalities of human thought, feeling and conduct. But on a purely scientific or naturalistic view, nothing is more important than anything else, in the sense in which the words are being used here. In a universe deprived of intentionality as a whole, a volcano is no more important than the death of a beetle, or the explosion of a star. Nothing is important or significant but conscious thinking makes it so: the type of thinking, moreover, that employs moral categories that are inherently non-natural.

Those who say that we are on the verge of a huge increase in self-understanding are claiming that enlightenment will suddenly be reached under the scientific bo tree. The enlightenment will have to be sudden rather than gradual because, if it were gradual, we should already be able to point to an increase in human contentment and self-control brought about by our already increased knowledge. But even the most advanced societies are just as full of angst, or poor impulse control, of existential bewilderment, of adherence to clearly irrational doctrines, as ever they were. There is no sign that, Prozac and neurosurgery notwithstanding, any of this is about to change fundamentally.

On mankind:

In my opinion, the great philosopher David Hume understood why human self-understanding was forever beyond our reach. It is not a coincidence that he always expressed himself with irony, for the deepest irony possible is that of the existence of a creature, Man, who forever seeks something that is beyond his understanding.

Hume was simultaneously a figure of the enlightenment and the anti-enlightenment. He saw that reason and consideration of the evidence are all that a rational man can rely upon, yet they are eternally insufficient for Man as he is situated. In short, there cannot be such a thing as the wholly rational man. Reason, he said, is the slave of the passions; and in addition, no statement of value follows logically from any statement of fact. But we cannot live without evaluations.

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