From Psychology to Philosophy

When I was in academia, I sometimes thought I was misplaced in a Psychology department, and that I should be in Philosophy. I thought I could be more effective, more in peace, in a Philosophy department, working with and alongside philosophers. I thought philosophers would have broader and deeper concerns, compared to the narrow-mindedness and irrelevance of most psychologists.

Then I discovered that the other side has similar problems. I discovered the problem wasn’t about where I was placed, in this or that discipline, but about being ‘disciplined’ in general. Pursuing a career in ‘pure psychology’ or ‘pure philosophy’ means responding to problems that arise only from within the discipline, which means being unresponsive to other concerns of human life, some of which could arise from other disciplines.

The answer isn’t in philosophy and it isn’t about being in a Philosophy department. It is, instead, in the movement between disciplines, the movement between different forms of thought. I detected the importance of moving toward–and connection with–another discipline, but I attribute too much of that importance to philosophy itself. It is about movement, and philosophy gives you one excuse (among many others) to move.

To move (entelechy), you need a reason, and object; to express ‘soul,’ you need to find soul. Soul is expressed in movement, but it is also found in movement.

Holiday Party, Space, & Kant

We got together online last Thursday with colleagues at IcebergIQ for a holiday party. Natalia Stroika and Indigo Esmonde joined us, too, as MCs and game designers. Natalia and Indigo guided us out of Zoom to another platform, Gather, where we played games. After the games, we stayed in Gather platform and shared, i.e., synchronized, a meal in the spirit of holidays. Since I had dinner plans later, I had snack — yogurt, mixed with banana slices and granola.

A few words on Gather. In Gather, each person has an avatar which can move freely and interact with other people or objects when they are in close proximity. You cannot hear or see people who are distant from you in the virtual space. That means space is implemented more fully (more extensively!) in Gather, which made me realize the lack of space in Zoom. Yes, there are video panels in Zoom and the panels are arranged in space, but you cannot move in Zoom. You cannot create distance, and so you cannot create proximity. In other words, you cannot act or play with/in space. The lack of space in Zoom–which might be perceived as a strength, because you can reach everyone in the meeting at once–focuses attention exclusively on speech and images. By contrast, in Gather there is space for movement. If the group is divided into parts, gathered in different locations, you can choose to join one group and later join a second group. By enabling you do more things in space, Gather allows you more ways of organizing your time, as well.

What makes virtual reality feel more real isn’t always extra features and capabilities, but extra limitations. In a social gathering that takes place in the physical reality, I cannot be in all locations at the same time–that is a limit. Experiencing a similar limit in a virtual environment helps to experience the environment as more similar to real life.

After the holiday party, I went out for dinner with two friends and we spent the rest of the evening together. When I am with these friends, I remember why I returned to Toronto. My heart remembers. It is not a matter of being closer to something, but being in a different place where I experience the visceral sensation of being with friends (I feel similarly after our Sunday morning sessions with another group, even though that is an online event with participants from different countries).

When we walked out of the restaurant on Thursday evening, the space felt open and the world felt full of possibility. I noticed travelers coming out of Union station with big pieces of luggage, I noticed a seemingly unending line of taxi drivers and two people giving away chocolate and wishing passersby a happy holiday. Breathing feels easier in a friendly space. Walking is easier. You don’t just move, you play with space. Expand. Focus. Expand again. Turn. Connect. Etc. Etc.

Later in the night, since I couldn’t fall asleep, I continued reading Sebastian Gardner’s book on Critique of Pure Reason. Chapter 4 (“The Sensible Conditions of Objects”) summarizes Kant’s various arguments for why space is not itself a thing we experience, but something that enables experience of objects. In Kantian terms, space is a form of intuition. It is our way of having access to the presence of an object. Similar statements apply to time. To use a very loose analogy, we could say the relationship between things and space is similar to the relationship between thoughts and (the space of) concepts. The form of a thought is determined by the concepts we use to reach the thought, as the form of an object is found within space. When we think about a concept (by using another concept?), or when we perceive space, we are not thinking about a thing (and, if we are, we are not thinking about what we believe we are thinking about). I wonder how Kant thought about architecture and design.

I am much more interested in the consequences of Kant’s treatment of space and time than the arguments that support it. We’ve been exploring some of those consequences in relation to Jung. I can also see the impact of studying Kant on understanding Husserl and Heidegger. To explore the framework, and its consequences, more it is necessary to spend time with it, to allow it to form the space of thought. A Kant reading group wouldn’t be a bad idea, although it would demand more from the participants, than the typical reading group. For my part, a Kant reading group will have to replace (take the place of) an existing reading group.

On Work

Yesterday evening we held Session Three of my Carl Jung seminar at IS. Before that, during the afternoon, I was working on my current report for IcebergIQ. And before that, in the early morning, I was reading Sebastian Gardner’s book on Kant and planning a Patreon video based on the book. Are these all work? Should I add more rest to my days? There are probably elements of work in all three activities, but there are also non-work elements in them. What does that mean? What are the work and non-work elements of an activity?

Thinking about work–in general–isn’t easy. Work has a psychological dimension, an economic dimension, a political dimension, a societal dimension, a personal dimension, etc. and it’s easier to perform a reduction to one of these dimensions before we start talking about work, as it’s easier to talk about particular people and their working conditions, rather than talking in general terms. I’d like write, nonetheless, a few general notes, almost in the style of free association.

We sometimes say about an activity, “it doesn’t feel like work,” when it is enjoyable, when it flows, or when we don’t have to endure it. These judgments, I think, are based on a very limited and negative view of work. Something can be work without feeling like work. On the other hand, we might say, “this feels too much like work,” when we think the effort required for the activity is disproportionately high. Sometimes, spending time with family members can feel “too much like work,” although it is unambiguously not work. When I need rest urgently and desperately, it doesn’t necessarily mean that I have been working.

At the Jung Seminar, we had a wonderful and interactive group, which is why I offered holding a fourth (bonus) session next Tuesday. The seminar also inspired me to plan another seminar or reading group for next year. Maybe there is a kind of work that itself wants to be done, and being able to do it means giving expression to the drive inherent to the work. In such cases, we are discovering and responding to an inner necessity. If I manage to be in tune with that inner necessity, to express its corresponding drive, justification, and meaning–I find that the work is intrinsically rewarding. Obviously, this doesn’t apply to all types of work. And, just because a work is intrinsically rewarding it doesn’t rule out the possibility of exploiting it by others.

Photo by RODNAE Productions from Pexels

The expression of the drive I am referring to necessarily takes place over time. Thinking about work leads quite naturally to thinking about time, and about how working gives and finds structures in time. The work of holding a seminar structures time differently, compared to the work of writing reports, or the work of video production. Still, working on any of them, I find myself moving along a somewhat cyclical pattern, like a wheel that turns, while also moving forward. I imagine myself to be a point on the circumference of a wheel. While the wheel is moving forward. There is repetition in work, in the structure surrounding work, in the schedule of work, and that repetition is part of what enables change and discovery.

In contrast to the temporal structure (structure over time), there is a structure of relationships among people. Working involves positioning, movement, and exchange. Think, for instance, of a contract or a promotion. With work, we enter into an exchange with other people, with an organization, with the world. I think the inner character of a work needs to match the outer positioning of it in its context. The solitary and detached position an alchemist is congruent with the inner character of his work. Is the alchemist in an actual exchange with the world? Or is he imagining and hoping for a future exchange, a future positioning, a future part in a larger structure?

The fairness and the intensity of exchange can determine how long the work continues and what its outcomes are. Despite how much I enjoyed the Jung seminar, I could not devote myself to that work completely. The same is true about the other work I do–there is a lack in all of them, each lacking in a different way, which is why I am doing all of them. But isn’t part of the work detecting those lacks and responding to them? Isn’t “finding work” part of working? The various connections I have made since moving to Toronto, include connections that continue and extend my search for work. “What else can I do? How can I improve what I am doing?” These questions linger on my mind, while I am “resting.” The work wants to continue and that might not be such a bad thing.