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The Chaos Monster

In fallibilism, skepticism, the ancient greeks on 22/06/2011 at 9:28 am

In Jungian terms, the uncanny breaks down our expectations for how the world is to operate. When we attempt to understand things, we can only see them through our own filter. If you have a hammer, everything you see is a nail. Our preconceived notions of what is normal break down, and when they are violated, we realize how fragile our epistemic assumptions are: the world isn’t full of nails. We’re left disturbed, unsettled, or shaken. We’re confronted with the irrational and the breakdown of fundamental order of the world. Without something to hold on to, we’re left fumbling in the dark.

I want to turn now to another part of Jungian psychology and transplant a psychological theory to epistemology: I have a fairly rooted understanding of myself, the beliefs I entertain, what is me and what is not me. There’s (1) what I believe myself to be, (2) what I am, and (3) what I show the world. That constitutes the self.

Let’s focus on the first two: the space between what I am and what I believe to be is a terrifying place, understood in Jungian psychology as the shadow. There are numerous root areas of ourselves that leave us feeling uncomfortable — or even terrified. They are things we keep hidden, or are ashamed of, or are unresolved. While this may be true for us in a psychological sense, I think this translates well for epistemology: there are an infinite number of consequences of the propositions we adopt, some of which are disturbing, for they bring up the incoherence of the self. It’s a secret shame for anyone that desires intellectual honesty and integrity.

This, I assert, is a proper way of linking psychology and epistemology. It’s different than Wittgenstein’s approach, one that I find to be mistaken for a number of reasons I won’t address. Rather, I wish to provide another option: we want to resolve our contradictions, and philosophy, like therapy, provides a tool to resolve these contradictions.

There’s another parallel: both philosophy and therapy are, I assert, about intersubjective confrontation of our assumptions, of parsing out the connections between these assumptions, and revising these assumptions when confronted with incoherence.

Wittgenstein said that “the philosophical problems should completely disappear” — with enough effort, the philosopher can show that the world is as we take it to be, that there is no uncanny part of the world (or at least no uncanny that we should address). I think this is just wrong: philosophy is about attempting to solve our problems, to learn that the world is not as we take it to be, and to revise our assumptions accordingly. Philosophy, like therapy, is about learning something new about ourselves and the world we inhabit.

We should not “shew the fly out of the fly-bottle” by dismissing the incoherence of our assumptions or the existence of the uncanny — we should confront the fly buzzing in our heads in just the same way we confronted the chaos monster.

So what are we left with? We have to face the incompatibility between our beliefs about the world and the world-in-itself, along with the incoherence of our beliefs. The only way I know to address these problems is through a critical discussion, which includes discussing the outcomes of any sort of test we may conduct. Philosophy of science, then, requires a specific cultural environment to thrive if we are to best the fly and the chaos monster.

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