Friday, May 1, 2009

the mirror test

The Mirror Test and the curse of recursion


          We must ask every criticism if it is safe from itself. And again, we must ask every praise if it is safe from itself.  “Nothing is true,” is self refuting, to take an easy example. The extreme skeptics who attack our ability to know must not do this by teaching us something to know. Their skepticism only works if it is not put into words.

          “Nothing in excess,” says Apollo to the Greeks. Yes, and isn’t the absolute “nothing” itself an excess? “Be moderate in most things,” is a more moderate statement, that honors its own advice.

          In the same way, Freudian psychology doesn’t explain Freud himself. Every system must account for its own emergence. Religions pull this off well. They account for the scriptures that talk about God as if they come from God. The theologians have a tougher time. If they add anything to the scritpure, than the question is, why didn’t God put that in the scripture in the first place? If they do not add anything to the scripture, then why are they wasting our time? For instance, Dante writes an epic that beats everything in the Testament in terms of grace and power, yet we must ask: why, Dante? Wasn’t God’s word enough?

          To continue the religious examples, Calvinim, when it speaks of the forordination of God, must implicitly posit its own emergence as being God’s idea, including an account of its late arrival.

          Derrida, with his deconstructive method, wrote in such a way to foil wrongful deconstructions of himself. Almost. He was Jewish enough to write himself as the culmination of history, following Freud’s decentered self, Derrida goes on to decenter centeredness itself. Yet he makes decentering the center of his discourse.

          Darwin must account how evolution produced a man capable of writing about evolution.

          Every system, and especially every critique, must be mindful of whether it negates itself in paradox. “Language is inneffective” cannot convince us. “The mind is impotent” disproves itself by its own “discovery.”

          Furthermore, we must look to see if the critic is not projecting his own problems onto the work he is criticizing. The Jews complained of idolatry, but they themselves preffered their own private mode of idolatry.

          “Judge not lest you be judged” as a saying itself implies a cynical judment on mankind—that there are many things that could be judged and condemned, including the judge himself.

          William James’s Pragmatism argues, in paraphrase, that truth is what works. Is this itself a truth that works? And if the idea that “truth may not always work” itself works for those who believe in it, do we not discover a paradox?

          The mirror test is a way not to banish something, but to give perspective.

When Ayn Rand preached “the Virtue of Selfishness,” how selfish was it to call herself selfish, given the reception of her critics?

If we should remain optimistic, does this not imply that there is a pessemistic reality this optimism is supposed to hide from us?

If we read a Self Help book, should we not read a biography of the writers?

If God wants you to love him or he will send you to hell, would you feel comfortable being in heaven with him for eternity?

Is capitalism the most competetive economical system out there?

Can the Bible’s occasional claims to be authored by God really be an authority?

Could the Founding Fathers of America emerge from the America they created?

Would you prefer others to treat you with the principle “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” or treat you kindly because they value you in yourself?

If giving to others is good for the soul, wouldn’t you be doing more good for others by taking from them?

If God made the world, who made God?

If the stars make our destiny, do they destine some of us to be skeptics of astrology?

If free will is an illusion, are some people determined to believe in it anyway?

If we should be tolerant of other’s beliefs, should we also tolerate intolerant beliefs?

Is “idea” itself an idea?

If it is good to selflessly love, are we yet loving other “selves”?

If Marx claims that good ideas only come from a good economical system (communism), how can he trust the ideas of his own writing?

If God is unknowable how do we know he is unknowable?

If you think you can’t trust yourself, how can you be sure?

If God is allpowerful, does he have the power to grow more powerful?

Is it reasonable to be reasonable at all times?

And so forth. But while these are one-liners, the mirror test can be taken further and deeper.Think of this when you mirror meditate.

To fully see a man, you must see also your reflection in his eyes. To fully see an object, you must also see yourself looking at the object. There is no escape from this. “One cannot see an object without also changing it,” is a science idea that has been metaphorized into all observings. But by seeing this truth, they have in fact changed and reversed it itself. Lament never that you did change it.

          A full explanation not only explains its topic, but it explains itself as explanation, and explains all other explanations: not explained away, but explained together. This is the full word, the “Complete Communication,” which Wagner spoke of.

          Ideas take centuries and millenia to unfold. Some ideas take thousands of minds to fully reveal themselves. Some ideas finally reveal that they have an empty heart. Other ideas are as full as the sun.

          My boss correcting my skepticism with a quote: the true cannot be explained. I nodded for a moment—no need to discourage him!—and then added: can that very statement be explained? He should know I would recurse any truism.

          It is easy for me to deflect an arrow this way—slogans are a nuisance. Its like a preacher who quotes a verse here a verse there, but has never read a full book of the bible: his sermon is like a zookeeper making a collage of body parts.

          And again, the slogan is easy: sloganeers are dumb anyway, you could confuse them by repeating their phrase with a question mark at the end. I am interested in taking a book, which is always a great clay ball of two colors intermixed, like the green and blue of earth, and making a mirror of between them. This on this side, that on that side, look smart, let’s see how you really balance out.

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