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Back and forth

Philosophers, go fig.

Topic #273:

Do we live life forwards, but examine it backwards? This is something the philosopher Kikergard pointed out long ago.

Do you agree? If you do, isn’t this odd? It seems we’re likely to make many mistakes in basing our future, which is forward thinking, entirely on the past, which is looking backwards.

My first thought is pretty much “What does that even mean?” I’m not going to read the link, at least not yet, because I want to come at this entirely based on what I know and what the topic says. It’s a puzzler, though. I’m trying to imagine living backwards while examining forwards, and it’s just as meaningless to me. Sometimes I think that the real job of a philosopher is to come up with vague, quotable, lofty sounding catchphrases that nobody understands but pretends to so they don’t look dumb. Ah well, maybe someone can explain it in the comments and then I can try to address it.

The second part, however, that I understand. That doesn’t necessarily mean that it makes sense, though.

Basing our future on our past. What else could we base it on? I mean, we only know anything at all from the past. We can’t learn anything from the future, because by the time we do it’s become the past. The present is that place where we make the mistakes we will learn from when it’s the past.

Worse, though, is that people keep making the same mistakes that have already been made in the past. So not only is it silly and pointless to complain about basing our future on the only source of information we have, it’s irrelevant because we clearly aren’t doing that. If anything we’re basing our future on a bizarre mishmash of distorted ideas of the past, lies, wishful thinking, hallucinations, outright insanity and just a tiny smidgen of careful analysis and reasoned thought, just enough to keep us from bringing all of civilization crashing down around us.

Maybe I’m being grouchier than usual, this hasn’t been a great weekend for me.

To talk about past and future as directions and imply that we’re looking the wrong way seems to me as asinine as asking someone who is falling to their death why they’re going down when up is so much nicer. When we speak of looking backwards to the past or forwards to the future, these are metaphors. We are talking about imagining or remembering things, there’s no actual looking involved and there are no directions. A metaphor is a poetic impressionist picture of a thing, it is not the thing itself.

Right, I’m going to grouch off back to my hole now.

What happened to Saturday?

I sort of lost a day there. Hate when that happens. Well, that’s weekends for you. So two posts today, which shouldn’t be too hard for me because they’re both going to be mostly me whining that I don’t understand the metaphor. First up, the one I would have done yesterday, if I’d noticed yesterday:

Topic #272:

Jody Williams, winner of the 1997 Nobel Peace prize, advises that the winners this year ‘Stay true to themselves’.  This is advice we often here is kids or in movies, but what does it really mean?

First of all, how do you discover who your true self is? It seems many people don’t quite know who they are.  Second, most people have some qualities that they wish they didn’t have, such as jealousy, envy, insecurities or prejudices. Staying true to those things wouldn’t seem to be in our interest.

What does it mean to you to stay true to yourself? Which part of yourself to you think about?

Surprising number of typos in that one. Guess it wasn’t just me having an off day. Since I’m feeling pissy today let’s deconstruct the metaphor with wild abandon and little forethought.

“True” has a lot of meanings in English. In this case it seems to be used to mean “straight” as in “not crooked, bent, or warped” (but possibly gay). “Straight” has also been long used as a metaphor for “honest”, so we’ve already got a nice prepackaged meaning right there. Occam’s Razor and general laziness both suggest that it’s just old fashioned language that might today be rendered as “be honest with yourself”.

I like that interpretation, it’s simple, makes sense, and is genuinely good advice. So what’s all this about discovering your true self or people not knowing who they are?

Let us enter the realm of pure speculation. Suppose we interpret “stay true to yourself” to mean “be who you really are”. (We’ll skip the obvious question of “who else could you be?” and run with this for a moment.) Consider that many people aren’t quite happy with who they are, and wish to change themselves. It’s often treated as though who you wish to be is who you really, really are, underneath who you merely are. Clearly there’s some truth to this, because if who you wanted to be wasn’t already a part of you, why would you want it? At the same time, claiming that who you want to be is more who you are than who you actually are is clearly just wishful thinking. But if we have a clear, honest understanding of these two and the differences between them we can work to bring them closer together.

It’s easy to lie to yourself, especially about yourself. So the first step would be to be honest with yourself, which brings us back around and provides a nice little cliche to end this with.

As always, thanks for reading.

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