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A Long Walk with Bertrand Russell

July 21, 2006

Past few months of study have mainly revolved around philosophy of mind and language, but also some related to society.  I’ll talk about each three successively.

I rather recently finished Bertrand Russell’s book ‘The Analysis of Mind’, which I found to be invigorating.  The mind has always been one of my greatest passions and to learn there are many more roads to travel brings a smile to my face.  I thought the road was over, and the subject was coming to a close only to find many hidden facets buried under false pretenses.

One of which is an expansion of scepticism.  Though I thought a person could at least know their own experiences, I learned this is not the case.  A person, though they have strong convictions otherwise, can even doubt their memories.  Everything from my bedroom to my childhood can all be doubted as to whether I’ve actually been there.  The entire mental existence of a person hinges on beliefs, and many other metaphysical abstractions such as ‘consciousness’ and ‘thought’ are meaningless words. Memory is in the main a feeling. It was quite a book.

My conception of mental objects changed slightly after reading Russell’s views, but for the most part, that’s stayed the same.  I took pleasure hearing a Nobel Laureate expound on views that I held without reading any books on the subject.

Russell believed that thoughts themselves exist independent of mind.  From what I gathered, thoughts exist in this pool. Thoughts come and go and a person forms beliefs, and these beliefs are what constitutes a person.  Beliefs are a relation between thoughts.  That’s a new way of thinking of the mind, and one which I’ve entertained lately.

He also advocated the dualism between mind and matter is a moot point.  I rather enjoyed his view that everything that exists is made of a neutral stuff which is what both constitutes mind and matter.  Taking such a view immediately solves many of the mind and matter distinction issues.

Continuing on my Bertrand Russell expedition, I began reading his other book called ‘An Inquiry into Meaning and Truth’.  The book is a linguistics book as to how language comes to be knowledge.  I’m currently working on it, and though it’s rather technical and somewhat pedantic, I’ve learned some new things. I had a good laugh from his chapter on logical words. He gave an example of how our use of the word ‘or’ differs from the mathematical logical ‘or’.  An example conversation followed:

“Has Mrs. So-and-So had her child?”
“Yes”
“Is it a boy or a girl?”
“Yes”

Hahaha.  Though this conversation is logically impeccable, you’re sure to frustrate someone rather quickly.

There was other interests found in his section on Egocentric particulars.  I will simply quote from the book:

“We say ‘I am hot’ rather than ‘this is hotness’, if we are hot from exercise and not because of the surrounding temperature.  But when we go into the engine-room of a ship, we say ‘Ouf! it is hot here'”

Basically the distinction between when you use an egocentric particular or not is based on causal relations.  Interesting, mainly because a person’s body, and all they are, is perceived just like any other object.  What makes a person distinguish “I” versus say, some other object, is causal relations. (which are themselves beliefs)

After reading Russell’s History of Western Philosphy, and learning the quality of his writings, I decided to buy everything he’s written.  The first book I read in my shipment has been ‘Principles of Social Reconstruction’. Political philsophy is a newer subject to me so near everything I read was amazing.  There’s a lot to be said, but I’ll state a few highlights that I really enjoyed:

He partially advocated a concept I’d never heard, nor considered, called ‘syndicalism’.  Since this book is rather old (1920s) the meaning of syndicalism may have changed from what it meant at that time.  He argued that we’ve managed to become politically democratic, but not in the business world.  Syndicalism seems to advocate (and I may be way off here) a democratic style of running a business.  The business would become property of all who are involved in that business and all have a democratic vote as to where the company goes.

I am in love with that idea, and it seems to embody everything I believe in.  I can’t stand capitialism, and how, for whatever reason, just beacause someone ‘starts’ a business they’re entitled to all the profits of all the labors beneath them.  Taking Wal-Mart for an example.  I know Sam Walton is no longer with us, but say he was.  As owner of Wal-Mart, he would be receiving all the profits of all the labors of all the employees of Wal-Mart.  People argue, he deserves the money because he provides a service to so many people.  This is blatantly false.  Sam Walton is not the one stocking shelves, cleaning the floors, loading the trucks, moving crates in the warehouse, or checking you out.  This is done by the ’employees’, but for some reason, all the money flows to him.

Employees are treated as an expense from a tax perspective.  How sickening.  For some reason there’s this big distinction between the owners of a corporation and its employees.  Russell argued that the capitalistic distinction causes too many unnecessary conflicts of interest.  The employer tries to get maximum work for minimum money, and the wage-earner tries to get maximum money for as little work.  This is a stupid conflict and shouldn’t even exist.

Another argument against economics arose, as economics perceives all success in terms of production.  This is stupid.  We don’t think in terms of happiness of the workers, or even the employers, but in terms of how much ‘stuff’ did we produce.

It reminds me of a young man who goes out in a field and digs deep holes for several weeks.  After a while an old man confronts the young man.  The young man exclaims, “Look how many holes I’ve dug!”  Then the old man asks, “You’ve accomplished quite a feat young man, but may I ask why you are digging holes?”

Most of what we produce is frivilous and wasteful.  I think if people would think out what they’re doing, they would realize they would rather relax a little and work less instead of producing all these worthless things.

Success of our society should be based on whether or not people are doing what they want to do and are fulfilling their inner most creative potential – not an increase in GDP.  Masked in a worship of money and the ‘American dream’ we’ve lost sight of this simple fact.  The reason people worship money is simple:  they believe if they had enough money, they could finally do what they want to do.  They dream of the day they retire, and devise businesses that mean nothing to them, in the hopes they’ll make enough money to do what they’ve always dreamed.  This is all nonsense.  Everybody’s off working to make money, doing things they don’t care about, dreaming of the day it’ll all go away.  I don’t see why we don’t just scrap the whole system and restructure things.  The American Dream is no dream, it’s a nightmare and it’s time we woke up.

There’s a lot to the restructure, and that’s what the entire book was about.  Changes in government, education, and property. It’s a first-rate book that I recommend to anyone who cares about the world and its problems.

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