In my weekly endeavours, a clear and consistent trend began to emerge. I wanted to brain-bulk (literally) like this is not me trying to pad my own ego and show off my intellect (or lack thereof). More than anything else, I had a desire to uncover the secrets of what made us tick, draw connections in blank spaces we never thought existed.
Sparks, fireworks and all kinds of magic were firing up in my brain. I became driven by my desire to show that what I studied in school could be equally relevant to how I lived my life.
For too long, many of us have compartmentalised our lives, separating academia from our careers, daily life and the way we live our lives. We see academia as an exclusive sphere, isolated from the rest of our life. Hence, it becomes useless. A case in point would be the subject of philosophy. Some common quips on this matter include:
“eh philosophy do what one?”
“I don’t think its very useful for us. How to find job? Don’t go and take philosophy, waste time one”
“Don’t go and take philosophy, waste time one”
“In the end, no one really knows anything”
Well, I wanted to prove these claims wrong and show that not only is philosophy fun, but it is actually applicable in helping us become better people. ( Disclaimer: I am purely speaking out of the perspective of the limited time I spent on reading philosophy during my PPT Module and do not claim that this is the universal truth to all those who took philosophy. Neither am I suggesting that everyone becomes a philosophy major)
What I hope to achieve is to encourage people to venture out of their comfort zones and attempt at a Philosophy module in school or pick up a “supposedly dense ” philosophy book and try reading it. You will be surprised!
To spice things up, I will characterise the benefits to classic and iconic films/film characters that we all would have watched (because why not?)
Build The Mind of Sherlock Holmes
Philosophy is fundamentally the study of all things ranging from our existence to values, reason and language. When you philosophise, you are forced to undertake a rigorous study of arguments and thought. This gives you the detective training you always wanted; to deduce the thoughts underpinning current trends by uncovering hidden clues previous generations of thinkers have left behind. Just like how Sherlock Holmes solves cases by piecing puzzles together, you do not read things in its own vacuum, but you learn to interpret every text in relation to the complex world we live in.
Consider, for a moment, the concept of evil
Socrates posited that “The only good is knowledge and the only evil is ignorance“, where evil is not a simplistic painting of some crazy, manic grinning behind planning the next destruction of the entire world. Rather, evil lies latent in one’s laziness to think.
Then Hannah Arendt arrived two thousand odd years later, who in her book Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil highlights the reality of evil is mindlessness, where people are capable of committing atrocious acts of evil, simply because they do not think. Using the example of Eichmann (the head of deporting Jews to extermination camps), he proved to be vacuous, who did not bother thinking about his actions at all and merely executed orders mindlessly. This was a jarring juxtaposition of the maniacal, diabolical mastermind and ruthless right-hand man Hitler they thought Eichmann to be.
Through his repeated use of stock phrases and self-invented clichés, he displayed his acute lack of communication. He cannot coherently articulate himself without resorting to the euphemism-laden Sprachregelung (German for cheem political language). Often, fancy language is used to create an impression of intelligence and self-belief with the intent to conceal one’s ignorance. Eichmann has become an embodiment of the Nazi administration, with the regurgitation of exclusively Nazi-speak proving how he has completely internalised their belief system without the autonomy of his personal voice.
(This is not to say that he was not anti-Semite nor was he completely responsible for his actions but these were characteristics, secondary to his thoughtlessness). Even to his death, he thought it was not his fault.
“One person does not prove much!” argues the imaginary objector.
Then, in the next few decades, we see psychological experiments such as the Stanford Prison Experiment and the Milgram Experiment where we see results correspond Arendt’s hypothesis on the banality of evil. (they proved, under blind compliance, even the most normal people were capable of the worst evil.)
Therein lies the beauty of philosophy. As you uncover the subject, you will begin to understand the intricate links connecting thoughts and events. Then, you can see how even science has its roots in philosophy and truly appreciate the complexities of the world that we live in.
Sidenote: George Orwell’s 1984 will certainly blow your mind in light of this interpretation of evil.
Reject The Soylent Green
Just like how citizens in the dystopian future of “2022”, were fed Soylent Green and blindly consumed it without knowing the insidious mechanism churning out this albatross of a food.
In a “post-truth” world, where lies are considered “alternative facts” and politicians consistently embellish empty words with much pomp and fanfare. People throw out statistics and cherrypick data to display to convince you of their argument, without much logic. This holds true, especially in the United States where people have been blindly convinced by simplistic solutions (build a wall, no Obamacare, ban all people coming from certain Muslim countries–this solves everything! or does it?) It has become too convenient to be an inane consumer of the Soylent Green of our mind, and literally accept everything at face value.
However, through philosophy, you acquire the unwavering commitment to seeking the truth. To find the truth, you first have to dissect an argument, premise by premise. Identify fallacies or faulty logic in the arguments. Track and detail the philosopher’s eventual arrival at his conclusion. Then, you are called to critically analyse his viewpoint.
Thus, when you do this consciously as part of an academic exercise, you would have learnt how to clearly distinguish the fluff from fact pretenders from contenders and fiction from reality. You would be just like Thorn, our protagonist, a man of his own making, not conforming to the mindless consumption of Soylent Green. (Not trying to spoil this classic film)
(Pro-tip: When you can deconstruct an argument, in the very same way, you can construct your own argument, ground up which would help you formulate your argument clearly and logically)
Decode The Matrix
For the longest of time, I centred my life around my Christian faith, with the belief that the existence of God as my Lord and Saviour to be an infallible truth. This was non-negotiable to me. Yet, when I started to digest philosophy, this started to seriously mess with my mind.
Nietzsche’s argument against Christianity as a typical example of “slave-morality” centred around “other-worldliness”, where the weak because of their inability to retaliate against the strong who could impose freely on them, create an imagined reality where their weakness is celebrated as “virtues” and a future “glorious heaven” awaiting them.
Conversely, there was Descartes who in his “Meditations” stripped away every premise justifying his understanding of reality, concluding that he is “only a thinking thing”. And working from there, he made his way up to the ultimate existence of God, painstakingly premise by premise.
And for those who dismiss the idea that religions is merely a social construct, the allegorical tale written by Ibn Tufayl titled Hayy Ibn Yaqdhan shows us a feral child whom isolated by society could still find God through scientific inquiry on his own, presenting to us a thought experiment exploring themes of God, nature vs nurture and materialism.
These iconic works have coerced me to question my reality and think for myself if God is a mere figment of my imagination or an actual entity. Thank God, with a closer and more objective evaluation of my beliefs and experience, I survived the mini-crisis of faith.
Neo when he was plugged in the Matrix (like all other people) assumed his reality is true through the sensations he experiences. Yet, he has no idea that his sensations are misguided by the Artificial Intelligence manipulating him. Only when he has pulled away from the Matrix, he realises that his former life was an illusory experience. Neo eventually knows to take nothing at face value and to question the existence of even the most “infallible” truths.
So, when you undertake the quest of learning philosophy, you become the Neo of your mind and challenge the unassailable truths you held dear. Only then, you can decode the Matrix and find your own truth (just like how I did)
Master Yourself Like Yoda
In our journey as young Skywalkers, we are looking for Yoda to mentor and guide us through the conundrums of life.
Through studying philosophy, you will have conversations to the wisest of minds ranging from ancient philosophers such as the Greek gurus like Socrates, Aristotle, Plato and Epicurus. And on the other side of the globe, you can glean insights from the super sages like Confucius, Meniscus and Vatsyana. Then there are modern masters such as Arendt, Gandhi, Kant and Nietzsche who have nuggets of gold, ready to impart to us.
One of my favourite advice imparted to me from the Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelius was:
“Waste no time arguing about what a good man should be.
I felt that so often I was so caught up on crystallising the idea of what a virtuous man should be. Between friends, we would debate what is the best course of action men should undertake. We theorise and hypothesise how one should live his life to be the best. Then, as I read Aurelius, almost immediately I went silent and stopped the debating., Instead, I just went ahead and began to implement in my daily life what I considered to be essential in becoming a good man. Thus, I started to do more volunteer work, taking the time to read and educate myself intentionally, and investing more into my health and fitness. Slowly, I realised I had developed in all areas. (I saw my weight drop, my grades were improving and I was a more compassionate and understanding person.)
The etymology of philosophy originated from the Greek word, “Philosophia” which literally means the love(Philo) of wisdom(Sophia). So, to all you skywalkers training to be Jedi-Masters, dig up some books on philosophy and begin your training.
Spy like Ethan Hunt
“The more you know, the more you know you don’t know”
When you think that as you have read more voraciously you have now ascended and can be called Sensei, you are wrong!
Because as your mind expands, you discover how much more there is to uncover, that the amount of knowledge you have in your head is likened to a mere speck of dirt in the entire universe.