Ben Nadel
On User Experience (UX) Design, JavaScript, ColdFusion, Node.js, Life, and Love.
I am the chief technical officer at InVision App, Inc - a prototyping and collaboration platform for designers, built by designers. I also rock out in JavaScript and ColdFusion 24x7.
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Ben Nadel at the New York ColdFusion User Group (May. 2009) with: Gert Franz and Peter Bell

The School Of Practical Philosophy: Philosophy Works - Week Eight

Posted by Ben Nadel
Tags: Life

This class is so darn fun! If I had any complaint at all, it would simply be that the class isn't long enough. Sometimes, by 9:30PM, I feel like the conversation is only just starting to get juicy. Today, in fact, we definitely had to end the conversation in the middle of a thought - the conversation being an exploration of the question, "What am I?"


 
 
 

 
You will know the truth and the truth shall set you free.  
 
 
 

In the past, we've talked about emotions being nothing more than tools - informational markers that can be considered when making decisions. As such, it is easy to look at emotions and thoughts as being somehow separate from "me" - they are things that I do or have, but they are not "me." Who I am is the, "observer."

While I like this dichotomy, I think that it has some very practical limitations. Viewing your thoughts as being separate constructs is definitely a powerful mindset because it provides you with a perspective in which you have a greater ability to work towards self-improvement and the attainment of windsom. At a practical level, however, I think that trying to understand this divergence in any greater depth is a fruitless journey.

At the end of the day, we are nothing more than the sum of our actions. These actions (or inactions) are the physical incarnation of our conscious decisions. And so, while our being and our body might be separate, one only has meaning in the context of the other. While the physical underpinnings of the human body are endlessly fascinating, they lose (some) meaning without consciousness; and, while the mystery of consciousness continues to evade science, without the physical body, it lacks expression - and "wisdom," as we well know, is necessarily the expression and application of understanding.

As such, thinking about your observable self as being separate from "who you are" is certainly a great way to gather information; it is only through the tight coupling of mind and body, however, that one can have wisdom.

On a slightly different topic, someone in class raised a question about the difference between positive and negative emotions. When we think about emotions as being separate from "us," it is typically in the context of negative emotions. Positive emotions, though not subject to the same level of scrutiny, serve the exact same purpose. In response to the question, I talked about how movies often state that "love isn't enough" - Yes, movies are an amazing source of Truth.


 
 
 

 
Kevin Kline in Life as a House.  
 
 
 

When I got home from class, I wanted to look up one such occurrence and found a lovely one in a great Kevin Kline movie, Life as a House:

You need to know what? Do I still love you? Absolutely. There's not a doubt in my mind that through all my anger... my ego, I was faithful in my love for you. From seventh grade on. That I made you doubt it, that I withheld it... that's the greatest mistake of a life full of mistakes. But the truth doesn't set us free, Robin. I can say it as many times as you can stand to hear it. And all that does, the only thing, is remind us that love isn't enough. Not even close.

It is not the love that defined this character - it was his actions. Positive or negative, emotions are only tools - bits of information that hopefully provide us with the means to make the right decisions. And those decisions only constitute wisdom when expressed in the physical world though physical actions.




Reader Comments

A few things came to mind as I read through this. As far as your comment that "'wisdom,' as we well know, is necessarily the expression and application of understanding": That sounds a bit like what Aristotle calls "phronesis", which is usually translated "practical wisdom" or sometimes "prudence". You can read a pretty good article about it in Wikipedia, but essentially phronesis is the ability to know what to do in order to achieve a desired purpose. But there's another kind of wisdom that Aristotle talks about, which he calls "sophia" (which is usually translated "wisdom"): the ability to understand why the world is what it is. This is not so much dependent on your actions, but only on observation and reflection.

As far as whether love is enough - depends how you define "love", doesn't it? I firmly believe that love is enough, and more: but my marriage would be in serious difficulty if I defined love as simply an emotion. It's really more like an attitude, or an approach to the world. As such, it can (and must) include emotions, but equally it can and must include actions of various sorts.

Just a couple scattered thoughts :-)

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@Matt,

Wisdom is an interesting word. In class, we try to draw a distinction between information and wisdom. Specifically that one can have a load of information but still not be wise. As such, we've been looking at wisdom as the application of information and understanding (not simply the collection of it).

Of course, I could also be way off base as far as what I think the class is saying as well :D We definitely argue a bit of the definition of things all the time.

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@Ben,

I agree that you can have a load of information and not be wise; but I'm not sure I'd say that you can have a load of understanding and not be wise - does that make sense? To have understanding, I believe, is to have a knowledge not only of something in itself but of how and why it fits into some larger scheme. That implies some level of understanding of the larger scheme; and this, I think, requires wisdom - even if not applied in any particular way.

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@Matt,

I suppose what you are saying is true :) I think I just have a mental gap between having understanding and demonstrating understanding.

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Speaking of movies, as I was reading this, I couldn't help but think about The Genius Club.

Wisdom is very interesting. You can be extremely intelligent, yet have little wisdom. You could have an I.Q. that is off the charts, yet lack wisdom. One of my mother's favorite things that she said to me as I was growing up and she was lecturing me on something I had obviously done wrong was, "You may be a lot smarter than me, but I have more wisdom..." lol

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Just a humorous observation:

The first picture is a quote from scripture that says, "the Truth will set you free." The second picture is Kevin Kline saying to Robin, "But the truth doesn't set us free..."

Which one is it? If the truth will set us free, and there is a lot of truth in movies but Kevin says it doesn't set us free...INFINITE LOOP!!! :)

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@Mike,

No, the truth doesn't set you free in movies because you still have to pay to see them.

I was going to come up with a good quote about truth too, but the only one that came to mind is Peter Schickele's "Truth is just truth; you can't have opinions about truth."

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@Mike: you don't have to pay to see the movie if you see it with a guy and he pays for you. :-P

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@Anna,

I have not heard of the Genius Club - I'll have to look it up.

@Mike,

Ha ha - I was hoping to cause a "too much recursion" error ;)

@Anna,

I have to admit, I have a "bad" habit of paying for women at the movies, regardless of whether or not I am in a relationship. Perhaps it's just the caveman in me.

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For a more cynical view - seek the Truth and it will set you free. It will also get you killed by those who don't want it known.

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@James,

For some reason, the first think I thought of when I read that was The Da Vinci Code :)

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@Ben I absolutely loved The Genius Club, though I didn't think it got much press. It's this movie which (without giving much of it away) has pretty much just good discussion throughout the whole movie, and an ending which is what you would think most people would want while watching the movie the whole time, but also that has an element of sadness to it as well, and it has you questioning yourself. (or at least it had me questioning myself). I love those types of movies. Of course, I may just have very unique tastes compared to other people, too.

And I have had many guys pay for my movies, even if we weren't in an actual relationship. I am of the opinion that the BEST relationships are the ones that start out as friends, because you have more of a foundation that way. And one of the best ways for someone like me to get on my good side and set the motion in the right direction is when a guy pays for my movie. I am not by any means poor, nor is it the case that I do not make my own money and can not pay for my own stuff. But I just happen to be very traditional, and although I CAN technically pay for my own stuff, there's something romantic about a guy paying for my stuff. I love it when a guy steps up to pay without even expecting anything in return. It's something about the whole feeling that the man is trying to take care of the woman, and that makes me feel very comfortable. On the same note, I could absolutely in most cases most likely take care of myself (including in a physical way), and sometimes even better than the guy I am with, because I have taken 5 different disciplines of Martial Arts and have years of practice, and know practical application of what I have learned. Nevertheless, if it ever came up, and a guy stepped in and took care of me, I would love that, and I love the idea of being with a guy who can, because no matter how capable a woman is of taking care of herself, there's something downright comfortable about being with a guy who can and will take care of you. :-)

So, maybe you're on the right track there, Ben, with some of those girls, and maybe one day one of them will turn into a long-term fulfilling relationship. And there are women who love the caveman type, so once you are ready and have time to more actively pursue a relationship, gravitate towards those. :-)

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@Anna,

I don't think I would every really call myself the caveman type; I'm definitely not any kind of alpha male or anything to that effect. But, I suppose there are just parts, deep down inside, that can't be stopped. I like to think of myself as a gentleman and conscious of my actions (or at least trying to get better at being conscious); but, I wouldn't even come close to calling myself a "stereotypical" male.

But, I do love the idea of taking care of the people that mean something to me. I wish I could do it more often.

What kind of martial arts did you study? That sounds wicked cool :)

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Thanks! It was so interesting, and actually an intellectual pursuit as well as a physical one, because when you study martial arts, a HUGE part of it is the mind and body connection. Another huge part of it is respect and control. I have studied Kempo (sometimes spelled Kenpo -- Shorinji Rhu), Goshin Do, Tae Kwon Do, Hapkiddo, Brazilian Ju Jitsu, and MMA. I started out with Kempo, and that's the one I studied the most of. I love it.

That's cool...personally, I can't stand certain things about men who can be classified as 'type a' personality, and they have a lot on common with alpha males. I wouldn't want a guy who was an alpha male in every way, but I do like being taken care of, but not in the way you would take care of someone who was not capable of taking care of herself. There's something about someone doing something for you because they want to, and not because they have to.

And it's not like I would just expect a man to take care of me without taking care of him somewhat in return, it just wouldn't be in the same way necessarily, and not in the way a lot of people talk about a woman taking care of a man either, necessarily.

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