Monday, August 25, 2008

The habit of thoughtlessness

“[D]on’t we all know how relatively easy it has always been to lose at least the habit, if not the faculty of thinking? Nothing more is needed than to live in constant distraction and never leave the company of others.” (Hannah Arendt, The life of the mind, Two p. 80)Thinking, for instance considering what to write in this blog, seems a very natural activity for man. Isn’t it so that we always think automatically? In a certain sense it is true but most of what we call thinking is following the stream of what we already do: The habit of taking care that our daily life runs smooth; reacting on the stimuli that come to us. But if we intentionally want to consider what to do, if we want to deviate from our daily routine, follow new roads, be creative and so on; in short, if we want to stop the stream of automatic thought, we must isolate ourselves from the world around us, from the world that contains so much that can distract us. However, it is easier to follow the stream that carries us along rather than take a moment for a break. It is easier to let other people think for us. It is easier not to oppose even if it might be wrong to give in. Being creative and original, being independent is not the easiest way. Is that the reason that many people have given it up already so long ago?

Monday, August 18, 2008

Time as distance

According to Hannah Arendt, Henri Bergson first discovered that all words referring to time are words borrowed from spatial language. As Arendt quotes Bergson: “If we want to reflect on time, it is space that responds … [D]uration is always expressed as extension” (The life of the mind, Two p. 13). Or, as Arendt adds: “[W]e can measure time only by measuring spatial distances. Even the common distinction between spatial juxtaposition and temporal succession presupposes an extended space through which the succession must occur” (ibid.).
What Arendt quotes here about what Bergson discovered is exactly in line with a personal experience that I apply several times a week. As readers of my blogs may have noticed, running is one of my favourite sports. However, unlike many other runners, I have no particular routes where I make my runs. I run usually in the wood behind my house and I simply go with the idea to run, say, 45 minutes, choosing the paths during the run as my mood is and according to what I see. However, how long is 45 minutes? Already after less than 10 minutes, I have no idea anymore, how long ago it was that I left home. I experience this phenomenon even more when I do not run in my familiar wood but on an unknown road somewhere abroad, when I am on holiday. The solution I have found is this (and I do not suppose that it is unique): I know every path, every corner, every tree by way of speaking, in “my” wood. After all those years that I come there, I know also how much time it takes about to arrive at certain points on my runs there in the wood. Therefore, in a Bergsonian way, I simply translate my running time into distance and use the paths and places that I pass as marking points in order to guess how long I am already on the way, checking now and then on my watch (usually not before I am halfway) whether my guesses are right. This experience has made me realize already before I knew about Bergson’s time analysis that time as such cannot be measured and that it has to be translated into distance.

Monday, August 11, 2008

No news

When I wrote my blog on “the devil in our mind” two weeks ago, I was impressed by my recent experiences in Nagasaki, Hiroshima, and Auschwitz and I wondered how people come that far that they do such cruel acts. The actual problem is not, I think, that there are people that deliberately are prepared to kill people. I mean, that is a problem, of course, but the real problem is that, although most men do not want to kill, they are prepared to do it if a “person with authority” demands it, as Stanley Milgram has shown in his famous study Obedience to Authority. Some people think “If that person tells me that I can do it, it must be okay”. In other cases, people know that what they do is not good, but they are in such a situation that they do not see a real possibility to avoid cruel or despised acts, unless they risk their lives. What I think is that if we have come that far, that people are in such a situation, something has gone wrong already long ago, and that the phase that violence can be prevented has already past. There are many reasons why it can come so far, but one reason is that preventive measures are often considered “soft”, which is the same as “not realistic”. War and violence are presented on the first pages of newspapers and stressed in the TV news and everybody knows about it, but who knows for example about the preventive actions of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) ( Things that do not happen are not seen as news. However often this news is more important than the news of what did happen.

Monday, August 04, 2008

On friendship

Many people have tried to express the essence of friendship, but I think that nobody did it as well as Montaigne, when he thought of Étienne de La Boétie, his friend who had died several years before: “Parce que c’était lui, parce que c’était moi” (Because it was he, because it was I). Friendship with a person is something that we do not have with hidden thoughts in the mind, it is not something we have for trying to get something else. Somebody is a friend for us and we are a friend for that person simply because of who that person is, his or her good sides, his or her bad sides. And that is what Montaigne expressed.