A La Descartes
I’ve been listening to a podcast of a series of Yale lectures about death. This isn’t about the grieving process or the 5 stages or about what actually happens to your body when you die. This is a lecture from the philosophy department. It’s a series about what death IS.
Is death just about the body dying? Or is true death when the soul dies? Or is it both? Does your soul live IN your body? Within a certain range of your body, like a Bluetooth headset communicating with a nearby phone? Or can your soul be far away somewhere, but communicating real-time as though it’s just watching your body via Skype? And what does that even MEAN, since a lot of people don’t believe in souls anyway?
I’ve been listening to this man lecturing on and on, twisting himself into logic pretzels, and I can’t help but wonder what the end game is. What’s the aim of all of this thinking? What is it even for? Isn’t the purpose of thinking about something to find a solution to some problem or to answer some question?
Perhaps that’s very pedestrian of me.
Perhaps the point of philosophy is the thinking. Just the thinking.
So I googled “what’s the goal of philosophy?” and learned one thing: this wasn’t as stupid a thing to Google as I’d thought. It seems that no one really knows what the purpose of philosophy is, and anyone who might be close to knowing is a philosopher. The problem? Philosophers aren’t so great at thesis statements, so any explanation would be long, convoluted and full concepts that may or may not be complete bullshit, depending on what your “complete bullshit” threshold is. (Having gone to art school, mine is pretty high. Then again, I proceeded to go into programming, so sometimes it’s low. I argue with myself a lot.)
One answer claimed that philosophers searched for answers to really complex questions. Since those questions are complex, they often lead to long, convoluted answers and even MORE questions. This stands up to reason, but I can’t help but find it frustrating. You do all that thinking, all that writing, thousands of years of it and you never come up with a solid answer? Is philosophy an art or a science? There’s no scientific method here. There’s no burden of proof. There’s no expectation of results other than the production of more ideas and questions. What elevates this from “thing to do when you’re high” to “potential career choice”?
Maybe the ideas ARE the results? Maybe the only point in studying past philosophers is so that you can build on what’s already been done? Maybe that study is what separates a professor from a stoner?
I continued to think about this and I went to bed. Just as I was starting to get really, really tired of the whole roundabout circle of wondering what the point of something is and what exactly it contributes to society and why someone would spend thousands of dollars studying this when they could study something that might get them a job, I realized something.
I’d been lying in bed thinking for an hour. I hadn’t come up with any answers. I’d come up with more questions. I didn’t feel robbed of my time or like I’d just been wanking around. I just felt like I’d given something some thought but didn’t have a conclusion yet.
Maybe the point is asking the questions.
Maybe the point is to have a journey with no destination.
I had become, in some small way, one of them.