Tuesday, March 31, 2015

It's turtles all the way down.

One of the most annoying concepts in philosophy is that of the infinite regress. You might run into it in various contexts, but the most common one to come across it is basic causality.

It goes like this: if we accept that everything has a cause, and we trace that causal chain back to the beginning of time when nothing existed, what was there to cause anything? Here someone might pop in and say: "Easy! God." Then someone else might ask: "Well, what caused God, then?"

"Well, duh," the first person will say, "God caused himself because God knows how to do that," to which the second person's head will implode, but they won't say anything because the alternative would be for the cause-and-effect chain to go on into infinity, and the idea of accepting an infinite regress is even more embarrassing to a philosopher than using God as a cop-out and at this point they wish they just hadn't bothered with the conversation.

An infinite regress isn't just embarrassing on a philosophical level, it's also a pretty nasty thing to fall into on a daily basis. I know, because for some reason it's the first place my obnoxious brain decides to go when I try to teach it something about perspective.

Perspective is all, you see. In an ideal world, you'd be in perfect control of the perspective you take on any given situation. It's about how zoomed-in you want to be on what's going on.
For instance, if you're having a movie night with friends, in order to be able to enjoy yourself you'll want to be pretty zoomed in on the context at hand, and not hovering on the outskirts of the earth, pondering how messed up it is that you're this bunch of organic life forms who choose to lock themselves inside a box, surrounded by millions of other boxes, to sit side by side looking at other organic life forms sitting in various sorts of boxes... in a box! (I broke a therapist once by pointing this out. She was quiet for a long time and then said "So you'd like to have a better relationship with your friends?")

On the other hand, when something truly awful happens, you pretty much want to be as detached as possible, happily remembering the fact that in a couple of years time, none of this will matter and you'll both be sporadically looking each other up on facebook while wondering what on earth possessed you to even see anything in the other person.

In cognitive behavioral therapy, they call this 'reframing'. It's a pretty good idea, were it not that every time I try to reframe something, it's as if my brain slips on a banana peel and slides straight into an infinite regress. Like so:

Brain:   What the fuck is happening to your bangs today? You've been messing around with them for twenty minutes and they still look like a comb-over. Why do you even have bangs anyway? Are we pretending it is 1985? Everyone you meet today will throw up in their mouth a little.

Me:   This sounds like a task for... reframing girl! Ok brain, listen up: what my bangs look like is totally insignificant, because hair is an incredibly superficial thing to be hung up about, and most people won't even care what I look like because they are way too caught up in themselves to even notice.

Brain:   Good point. I mean, if you think about it, in just a couple of years, everyone who has ever seen your hair will be dead.

Me:   ...

Brain:   And then a little while later, the sun will explode, swallow the earth, and no-one in this galaxy will ever have hair again. Probably. You know, never say never.

Me:   :((((

Or, if you want to go the other way around:

Brain:   Well this is an incredibly boring conversation. Why are you even talking to this person? Neither of you has any importance whatsoever in the grander scheme of things!

Me:   You know, brain, just the fact that we are both alive right now, in this space and time, is pretty amazing. Just think of all the mind-blowing coincidences that had to happen for the two of us to share this same physical plane! Doesn't that count for something? Create a bond?

Brain:   You know what, that IS amazing. And to think that you are both made out of the exact same stuff as this table, or the wall, or that bottle of water, just oscillating in different configurations with a ton of empty space in between...

Me:   ...

Brain:   You know, from what little I understand about quantum physics, I gather there is at least a small chance that if you pick just the right moment, you can pretty much just put your hand through their face without them noticing.

Me:   :((((


I'm not entirely sure how to end this post, but that's fine, because there is an infinite number of parallel universes in which I am, and am also made entirely out of bubble wrap.

What do you MEAN I have to put pants on? Have you even HEARD of the Fermi paradox?

14 comments:

  1. Ha! I love it when I have a conversation, and then a few days later read about something that kinda-sorta relates to it! Soon, I'll know ALL THE THINGS, and then...:)

    ReplyDelete
  2. Ah yes. World domination. :)

    ReplyDelete
  3. Ugh, sounds like work. Plus, it's already broken, I don't want someone else's broken toys :P

    ReplyDelete
  4. Wow. At first reframing sounded like a good idea...then it sounded like an unspeakably bad idea thought up by someone with no interior life at all. Maybe I should try reframing it, though, but I'm afraid of going down that rabbit hole.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I generally have trouble distinguishing good ideas from unspeakably bad ones though.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Ah, it's turtles all the way down! :)

    ReplyDelete
  7. You can see why that would be a more attractive solution.

    ReplyDelete
  8. "I broke a therapist once..." Mwahahaha!


    I hate CBT. Even when I reframe, I usually do it wrong, and end up getting more banged up than I was before. Recently I reframed a guy screwing me over to a cycle of abuse, and then I informed him of my new perspective. He didn't take it well. And I'm pretty sure I feel worse now when I've been told emphatically that I'm an idiot by someone who's objectively a crappy human being.

    ReplyDelete
  9. In fact I'm going to steal that, and make it so that your comment turns from a clever reference into a pointless re-iteration of the title. Blogpowah.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Well, that put things in a new perspective... :( :P
    (Please do notice the past tense of put in that sentence! ;)).

    ReplyDelete
  11. If only we all had to make public the convos in our head, most of them wouldn't happen:). Am I right?

    ReplyDelete
  12. I'm not sure I understand what you mean... You think we'd be less crazy if we just shared whatever came to mind?

    ReplyDelete
  13. No--I'm saying if we had to say out loud to other people what goes through our heads, we'd censor ourselves. Not necessarily a good thing . . .

    ReplyDelete