« Philosophize This!

Episode #174 ... Simone Weil - The Mathematician

2023-02-02 | 🔗

Today we continue talking about the work of the brilliant Simone Weil. Hope you love it.







This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
Hello, everyone, I'm stephen west! This is philosophize this thanks for keeping this well going by subbing unpatriotic patriots shouts this week we got martin michalek Andy Wong Alex jaded, eight o shas walled and craig or blush of its? Thank you all supporting, if you guys, are troll on me with the names on patriotic, bravo, the internet wins as usual. Thanks for safer, contributing on paper for the back catalogue of a show coming up on ten years, a content. This year's thanks for allowing us to do the show for so long, thanks for following and sharing the videos on instagram and tiktok philosophize. This podcast one word if you want to follow their some of the videos been blown up lately today there are two episodes of the podcast being released. That really should be listened to back to back. just a way too much information going on to release it in a single episode. But the two are so connected in
terms of ideas. I didn't want anyone to have to wait to listen to the next one. So please listen to part four after this. If you have the time, but this episode is part three in the series on Simone v, the title of the episode is the mathematician. I hope you love the show today. So when one of our earlier journal, Simone bay, writes about a moral dilemma that ends up being a metaphor for situate, that a lot of people might find themselves in while living in the modern world. She says to imagine a man who lives in a society, reese forced to solve complex math problems all day long, but the catches that, when he alt one of these map problems any time he arrives at an answer, and that answer is an evil number he gets beaten with a stick by the powers that be they tell me, don't take Who kindly to even numbers around here son, the more Some of simone among bay was this. What should the mathematician do when he finds himself in this situation? Should he resist and fight back should he just refuse to solve any more their math problems, shooting a sign in protest about how upset he is by the end of these two episodes released here too
You will understand why Simone bay came up at the particular solution that she did this moral dilemma and also why, as The years went on. She grew in our thinking enough to realise that the answer not be as simple as the one she originally came up with for now, though, it's to consider why she thought this man situation was a metaphor for living in modern society to be someone like this man who solvent math problems is to be someone who's at bottom, on a quest find the truth, meaning you're not interested in someone's opinion about what the correct answer is to a math problem. You're, not just in one particular political ideologies taken what the correct answer is: you're looking for the truth on a deeper, more impersonal, more universal level when you're doing something like a math problem, as we talked about on the last couple of episodes, this new kind of attention that Simone bay is going to call for is also seeking the truth on a more universal level. Member of the whole strategy is to suspend the particulars yours
spending your own personal projects, privileges, biases, personality, you're, suspending your ego and you're. Doing this to me really try to better connect with both people and own terms and the eu, in verse on its own terms? And if you think about it too, gauge and that sort of attention is too live a life similar to this mathematician in the thought experiment. But then imagine, if, like the mathematician who gets beaten for coming up with an answer this and even number imagine have half the time. You actually sought the tree what about the world you're living in imagined He paid an immediate social price for doing that. Now. What could Simone veil possibly be right printing when she alludes to all this, but there's a ton of examples, we ve already repeatedly talked about one of them on the serious factory workers soldiers or anyone working at a job or your ability to think has to go for you to be able to meet whenever the work quota is more just as an act of self preservation. You can't think about higher level. Ethical concerns, the fact that your dignity or health has to be sacrificed so the
can better serve as a means to some other person's economic or political ends. Again, you start complaining about something like that at a job like this, and the thinking is look. This is just what the job is you don't like it go, find another job to Simone veil. Giving up your ability to think is one example of a social cost that some people have to pay just like the mathematician, if you were otherwise the kind of person that was committed to seeking the truth, but theres many other examples of the social cost for seeking truth, for one, as we talked about before you gotta give up the truth as your number one priority and life, at least for the first part, your life, all your in school. This is again just and of self preservation given away We decided to teach children in our societies where you got a clue, every day and you're told at what you're seeking when you try to learn about the world? Is the single correct answer to the questions that are india that there's a million ways to be wrong about the world, any single way to be correct and again, if you ever confused about something and life, just
go out and do some research, your research, long enough eventually arrive at the right answer point is School is more about finding answers sometimes and about finding the truth and if you're in school- and you don't wilfully go along with that set of objectives when it comes to measuring how much you ve learned this week, your problem, not going to do very well in school. That's a cost. You potentially have to pay for seeking the truth as well, some one they would say couple that with the fact that once you're out of school. You become an adult. There are very real incentives for joining some collective way of thinking where everyone agrees are gonna think about the world in the exact same way picture a political party picture religion picture how good it feels psychologically to have it. the part of and have all the answers, figured out now picture the fact that some people out in their own naive attempt to make sense of the world just love degree, everyone around them into these collectives you over there, you must be a progressive. I can see
well, it and you you're conservative, aren't you don't lie to me. People are really like it too much. If someone doesn't fit neatly into one of these categories, they started weirded out. They start to think something's wrong with you. like if they think you're one thing, and then you start entertaining ideas on the other side of things they may think you're just stupid like it is, don't have solid opinions on things or that you're some sort of chameleon the just changes based on who you're talkin to or what I favorites, that this is just some sort of act you're. Putting on that. This is a false openness to ideas. That's really just an elaborate tactic, we're trying to avoid criticized and make it so that nobody can possibly disagree with you it's off putting A lot of people out there to not have some sort of clear ideological a condition for who a person is in everything they represent. can then either rail against or be endless, the charitable too, and for someone like you convey were her. Life is,
often described in terms of the huge amount of change that occurred in our thinking in such a relatively short period of time. That level of growth in her thinking is all the available, if you're somebody that orients your attention in this more open receptive way that she talks about where you're trying to get to something deeper than just a sue me. What everyone else around you assumes about how the world is an that's great, no, but Simone veil would say the flip side of that is that when you orient yourself in this way, you sometimes live in a place of social alienations. You're often misunderstood, it's often harder to find in groups of other people to feel connected to that as a social cost. You pay for actually seeking the truth as well, but there's even more. costs that you pay to be like the mathematician. One obvious one is that you pay a cost for not being aligned with whatever the dominant discourse of the day is maybe your terrified of even speaking out, you think you're gonna lose your job. You pay a cost simone base, as at one point when it comes down
what for not making the same mistake that so many generations of people have made over the course of human history. You pay a cost for not thinking that you're the center of the universe, where the particular political climate that you happen to existing you make the assumption thats, just tantamount to what being a person is and magically. I found this group and subscribe to that has a solution to the problems of the human condition, but, despite all these costs that these seeker of truth and the petition have to pay in the modern world there still just a certain number of people that can't shake this glaring suspicion that they have that there seems to be something deeper to access about reality that is absolutely nothing to do with the particulars of their life or personality. Could there be away to orient yourself words. This deeper reality we're we're not this,
inter of the universe. Almost like copernicus is revolution, but in the field of ethics consider the fact she writes at one point that we have tons of civil regulatory agencies that deal with protecting people's particular human rights, their particular democratic freedoms, but there isn't even a public service announcement from our governor. Not a single word spoken about the importance of the universal obligation. We have two other human beings, that's the founding. of those rights and freedoms. We do next to nothing and our societies to promote the moral development of people. No again, we just gathered together, we organized these moral seminars and we pat ourselves on the back violence. satisfied is people's human rights down on a piece of paper, given them this legal and commercial language for certain lines they better not cross, or else that's be a violation of the rules in a naughty naughty You been a naughty boy today that breaking the rules violating that person's human rights, not you, you know violating someone's very person, hood part of what makes them human, like we talked about last time, couldn't be that
its missing the point as simone base as a man living alone in the universe, have no right to speak of, but would still absolute we have obligations. What does it say about our society It is that we do nothing to promote people's understanding of that obligation. That would do nothing to aid our citizens to see the deeper connection of mobile on a human to human level, rather than just how useful someone is to you or you're, politically or economically tied to another person in a way that helps you. What does it say that this is the way we encourage most people to look at their fellow human beings What it says, among other things, to Simone veil is that we sure ideology, D, ology, enclosed mindedness. We created centre in our societies, for people to join a collective way of thinking and then struck
sure things in a way that spiritually cripples them so that they feel like they have no choice but to join one of these collectors. Now. Why would anybody want to do this to people? This goes back to the concept of force that we talked about on. The first episode. Remember gravity is to the movement of physical objects as forces to the movement of human events, the goal of p in positions of power who are products of this whole set up where we nurture ideology is to turn people from ends in themselves. Indeed, just a means to some end that some person in power has they incentivize collective thought, because people are much the control politically, when they're all thinking the same way, even easier to controls a means to an end when you can dominate the media outlets that tell them what to think next, given known somebody, and some big story happens in the news and are not, their phone and they have almost nothing to say about it at first, but given ten minutes to read their power in a little curator of websites that tell them how to think and all of a sudden. There are all kinds of opinions about it
this is not someone that seeking the truth to Simone veil and the thing is there living in a society that working against them seeking the truth to be and with we have a long history, she thinks where people have been moving further and further away from our number one priority being to actually understand reality, instead of just some theoretical strachan. That only exist on paper. She thinks, if you look back at history, see this trend emerging almost everywhere, but one unexpected play. She thinks had a large contribution to this trend. It comes down to the way that we model things mathematically. I could probably talk about this for an entire episode, so I'll try to keep it short, but there are some very interesting sections in the jury. Rules of simone veil, as well as in certain letters that she wrote to her brother, where she talks about how the exam method we used to try to mathematically, understand reality drastically chain, just not only the way, we see reality, but the way we see the concept of understood
ending something at all. She thinks that was a shift. A couple hundred years ago, from geometric expression to algebraic expression again, is the short version of this, but back an ancient athens plato famously wrote over the doorway that the entrance to the academy, let no one ignorant of geometry inter here. That's the usual translation you're, given as someone trying to learn about philosophy on the internet, but there was an alternative translation to that and Simone. They thought this different translation was far more accurate and represented, why Plato, whatever right that over a doorway to begin with the alternative translation was let no, One inter here, who is not a geometer Simone veil, thought the point Plato was trying to make was not that the accounts me is some sort of geometry club, you know don't come into our club, How someone you know what the heck saigon is. No his point was dont. Coming here, if you're just a surfaced, don't come in here, if you're, just someone that wants to talk about philosophy as some sort of intellectual game for your amusement, because we are in games over here and the academy, we are all here
because we are united behind a common goal of trying to actually understand reality and geometry. For several reasons among bay. Thought is a very pure way of trying to understand the shapes and the configurations of those shapes that make up the world around. You too, study and understand a sphere was to study and understand something that actually exists in reality and something exists in reality is always subject to the limitations of the real world, in other words, reality always a medium for our knowledge about things when we're using geometry, but around the time of descartes, something changes, there's a shift from expressing things geometrically to expressing things, algebraical, all the sudden formulas, written down on a piece of paper can represent geometric shapes all the sudden, we're not talking to real geometric shapes but abstract theoretical ones. Now, On one hand, this is a great thing for humanity. First All we no longer need to have a real spear existing in reality to be able to study it more than that these theoretical speed,
years can be manipulated and extreme ways. There are no limits to the number of hypothetical spheres you can study. There are no limits to the way a expressed on paper, a theoretic. sphere can be represented by an infinite sum of algebraic points. Something that in reality is impossible, but on paper? All you really need is a couple of parentheses and three dots, in other words, simone basis, we are now using symbols or signs on a piece of paper to represent something. The dozen actually exist in reality, we played in understanding of actual reality for an standing of elaborate theoretical, abstractions and that's fine when you're writing, algebra problems for middle schoolers testing, their theoretical knowledge. You know to say John, has x number of oranges, there doesn't ring. we need to be a john or oranges in reality, for that kind of math to be useful is not trying to understand reality. Similarly, if you're just solving a math puzzle, because it's a fund intellectual
exercise. Reality doesn't really matter there either, but just ass. She thought plato recognised with the inscription over the doorway to the academy, if you're some we truly trying to understand reality? You can't exist. Excuse simply in the realm of the abstract, because it may seem harm Some people are doing algebra, but when this algebraic we have understanding abstract reality starts to infect the rest of academia. You can imagine what happens when you start applying this way of thinking to social systems, where considering real limitations that are built into how people live their lives or the real people the become oppressed and entrenched into these systems There were conceptualize. Theoretically, these people were just data points you can understand. even at an individual level. What can happen when people start to favour an abstract, theoretical, ideological understanding of reality over an actual under danny of reality, where their honestly seeking the truth and if we go back to the matter
from her example, just to even get to a place where you're like this mathematician, where you're actually seeking the truth in dealing with the social costs associated with that path. That's a hard! No place to get to all by itself But then, out of respect to the rest of her moral dilemma, to ask the further question of what the math attention should do. When he's in that situation, I mean: what can he do at a certain point? simone base, as the way he's most likely going to respond to getting beaten for arriving at even numbers. Is that he'll do these math problems? You'll seek the truth, to a certain extent, but when he arrives at an answer, that's an even number he'll just give these so over overlords the wrong answer on purpose, so that the answer is always an answer that they approve of and this is a metaphor for people that have every intention of being as open and receptive as they possibly can be, but when faced with the asked of living a morally consistent life, often feeling culturally uprooted themselves there.
often choose to join one of these collective ways of thinking. Instead, the political ideology, the religion, the cult of personality to Simone veil, people learn through intense social, conditioning as well as just tendencies in their biology to favour this constant antagonism towards other people over actually getting closer to the truth they preferred o connor We be at each other's throats battling one oversimplified collective assumption against another, asserting They believe to be the right answer against their enemies, We are always in the wrong like to political parties that are so help on their own survival, that getting to the truth, isn't even something that's really a priority to them anymore. Now this may sound depressing at first, for some people There's philosophers out there that just love talkin about how the entire world on the verge of collapsing, and then they got next to nothing in terms of what we can do about it. But that's not the case with someone like Simone veil, There's always this feeling of hope and optimism in her journals, at least from my perspective,
really does remind me. Sometimes when I'm reading her of what feels like a religious figure that you read about in history that was born into world and she looks around her during her short time here and sees people in chains both literal chains, as well as economic and political change and ash rights. It feels like which is genuinely trying to do with her life is to truly understand the poor, albums that have led to those chains, people are in and she tracks but some way that she can help liberate these people from them, and so her work is not just criticism. It's always coming from the position of lake, If we can agree that we got these big problems in the world and here's the way, people will come
when we see their fellow human beings when their being rag doll around by political and economic force. Well, that's one way of looking at things, but here's some hoped she would say there is the spiritual transformation that is potentially available to everyone. There's an entirely different way of oriented yourself towards the world. That makes you see everything and everyone in it completely differently, for example, take that seemingly default antagonism that people have towards each other from before, where their constantly pitting their supposedly privilege knowledge of the world of against all the other, takes it wrong about the world. Is there possibly a different way of orient yourself to that whole process? Simone veil would say yes, member attention for her was not a cent tasks that you have to perform and then, after doing those things, you'll get to the truth. It wasn't a method. Attention was a way of being to her and it was an orientation that you had towards everything in your reality, including this process of exchanging knowledge. She probably say sure somebody can absolutely true,
who's to see the quest for knowledge in their life as a constant battle between competing position. you do. The research you were that knowledge about stuff and now arguing in defending your positions on things, but a totally different way of seeing knowledge. That's it is reasonable. From this different way of organizing your attention is that knowledge is always just a fragment of a giant network of ideas that all connect together, sometimes and strange and surprising ways in that area that you know so far about reality is really just one perspective of partial truth. There have been revealed to you when one small portion of this network along a life I'm journey of arriving at a deeper levels of clarity in perspective. So when your attention oriented in this way. You're not out looking for fixed immutable facts about reality that you can build your entire identity around your more- looking for new ways that seemingly unrelated things may connect, and when someone disagrees with you a different red on the world. That's not necessarily something that needs to be fixed by you. It can be,
valuable insight into a different perspective that you never had access to before It is not an argument for relativism by the way or that you can't criticized bad ideas, or we can't make intellectual progress moving forward, its actually the opposite to Simone veil, because from this more open receptive orientation, we remove your ego from this whole process of exchanging knowledge. From that perspective, when someone else see something different than you do, it starts to not feel like as much of a directive front to your existence and yes, of course, some of the time you're going to be talking to someone who believes in verifiable nonsense and in those cases, you're, probably not going to have much reveal to you about this vast network of ideas. But for every one of those people you'll have a hundred people that it with you on most stuff, but disagree with you in key areas where this posture of openness makes the outcome of that conversation. Less of the default ideological debate.
the format that most people are fixed in in more of a mutual exchange of ideas. Point is there's an entirely different way of looking at things where you don't have to spend your life choosing sides between various forms of collective thought, and this is yet another example and Simone vase work of trying to get past the particulars to be able to access something more universal Simone veil referencing the mathematician. We talked about the beginning again at this early stage and are work. She's gonna say that the correct thing for the mathematician to do in history tuition rates getting beaten for arriving at even numbers would be to run away and continue. The metaphor here, by saying that he should run away from the situation. What somebody is really saying is that he should choose to not participate in any collective way of thinking that society is trying to coerce him into by force. In other words, she would say he should try to find a way to choose lucidity over ideology.
and again we'll talk about why this answer would get far more complicated for her later on in life. But let's talk for a second about the importance of lucidity in her work. Being able to think clearly is one of the most important responsibilities we have to Simone veil it's an absolutely crucial thing for you to take seriously in your life, if you ever to be able to resist anything. You think is bad in this world and try to make it into a better place. She says it lucidity quote: does away insatiable desires and vain fears from and not from anything else, proceed moderation encourage virtues without which life is nothing but a disgraceful frenzy. End quote. This is why lucidity and this new form of attention is the antidote she says to political force in colonization because think of what skills cultivating when you practice attention, you seek the truth rather than ideology, you seek universals rather than particulars. You seek truly lucid, clear thing
in, as opposed to the unmodulated, cowardly disgraceful frenzy of collective thought, she writes whenever journals about journals about totalitarianism and how the entire your game, that's going on in a totalitarian society is that some group at the top is trying to give the pot appalachian one single oversimplified political narrative about. What's going on and then they make sure, through propaganda, censorship and murder, that no competing takes What's going on, can never get off the ground too far. She thinks the people who are spiritually afflicted are wrong to a simple narrative like that, mostly because they're so fatigued from their lack of routes and representation? But again, there's hope here for Simone veil, this attention being passively, active and open to different reads on the world around you. This is the antidote to. Homogenization that a totalitarian society seeks where everyone thinks the same access aim and looks the same This is also why it should be said attention.
And masses of people with the ability to think clearly is a terrifying concept to anyone who seek to control people for the benefit of their own projects. And yes, that applies to people who are in positions of social power. But that also applies to tyrants. It exists in your own home or in your friend. Groups were in your relationships but anyway, let's continue on with this episode, just assuming that we ve all been sufficiently sold on the concept of attention like I get it Simone veil and by golly are right. The world has problems. and political revolution, isn't the first or best response is going to actually have results for people the chain, just gonna have to start in the heart of the individual and the way we see our neighbours in the world around us, but how exactly this summer Go about doing that again because it's one thing to say: oh just never, identify with a political party, Never join any collective of thought. Just be a rubik's cube of a person, I guess easier said than done,
and by the way about the spiritual transformation to keep talking about. How do I go about doing that? I mean you may be Simone veil for sure. But me look, you don't know me. Ok, I got french I and my car in between the driver's seat in the sinner council that have been there for literally more than a year I really the guy to do this evening. I got the intestinal fortitude, spiritually transform myself. Well, yes, she thinks we all do she says, ironically, one of the biggest boundaries people face when it comes to reaching deeper levels of this attention is just consent, meaning people love the idea in theory of having this kind of access to different reads in the world. In reality. There are actually a lot of obstacles and make it hard for people to truly consent to cultivating this new way of looking at things and there's exercises you can do if you wanted to develop this kind of attention more and rest assured we're gonna talk about the one she recommence, but before we talk about those is crucially important for us to first
understand the way Simone veil thought about attention more generally as something that she thinks is one of the most forgotten. And underrated ways in the history of the world of transforming your experience of the things you do. Let's start with an example say you want to change something about yourself: whatever it is. What's the first place, people usually think that that change is going to occur. Well, your answer to this question will probably be varied based on wine and where you live, animals com answer in the modern western world, just given, the genealogy of ascetic practices and judeo christian culture. The most common answers gonna be that change happens or something like willpower or through discipline does of course, variations in the exact terminology, people will use, but just given the classic western he rose journey way that we typically think about morality. This just now most people in the western world are going to answer this. You wanted, change something about your reality, you take control of your reality. You assert yourself on reality, so you wanted to read more, but you hate, reading
soon. The only way that's ever going to change is, if you have more discipline, you set alarm on your phone, you're gonna will yourself to read. a single day for thirty minutes right when you get off work and you what's gonna be hard, you know, you're gonna have to greet your teeth and fight through at times, but eventually, with enough strength of the will you're gonna get some momentum behind you, people can restart noticing. Given you credit for reading more then after a while, hopefully reading just becomes a habit for you What does habituated into your daily routine? You won't need to exert as much will to get yourself to do it any more. After a couple of months of doing this, you don't even really fight it anymore. You just read after work: that's a thing you do now and that is a perfectly decent way, change something about yourself but Simone bay thought by the end of her life, that instead of cultivating willpower, cultivating attention was just a much better way of transforming yourself all things considered, and it's not that she hated the idea of strengthening the will.
it was a big fan of stoicism. She wrote in her early journals. A lot about willpower is something that kept her on the moral path she wanted to be on, but you try to improve yourself enough in this life, and the question you eventually have to ask is: is: will Our the only skill that is useful to develop when it comes to improving yourself is that even the best skill to develop just like we were talking before about exchanging knowledge, and how, if you want to see the world in a new way that there's a totally different way of looking at that whole process, if you hate reading yeah, you can force yourself to do so I hate to do over and over again you can exert that muscular effort as she calls it. She says you can contract your spirit and focus on this one small activity that you dont like doing and force yourself to do it, but another way of approaching the problem she says, is to open your spirit rather than contracting it Instead of spending effort forcing yourself to read spin that same amount of effort reorientate the way you're thinking about the task of reading, maybe looking at it from a different angle.
Be learning something knew about. It may be putting an effort to try to find something that interest you reading the and never really considered before. That's a place to put an effort to now. It should be said. This sort of openness to existence is a skill just like discipline. It takes just as much practices. Discipline its rife with just as many potential failures a longer journey of cultivating it. But what? If, instead of getting super good at forcing yourself to do the things you don't like, you got super good at re. Imagining the things you get, no joy out of to be things that you do get joy out of we all know what it feels like to dislike something or some one, and then, when we step outside of our assumptions about that thing or that person, when we start thinking clearly when we again get out of those vain fears that shit but before we all know what it feels like to end up really enjoying a thing that we used to think was horrible. This is attacking the process of self transformation from the other side, and the end result is that
instead of change occurring by enduring something that you hate for months. Your life is driven instead, the Simone veil, by a true desire to do that, your life, is driven by joy rather than self denial. Now is here a bunch, a super discipline. People out there here in all this swinging, their kettlebells around violently. It is preposterous here, there's just turning everything hard into then you like, I thought they have your respect. Someone thought they had to go out into the wilderness naked choke out a caribou, or something will know that certainly one type of person we have respect for, but this far more to a person's character. Simone veil than just being able to control situations by asserting their will on them and there's obvious parallels here to the personal things they can get to the truth. Asserting themselves upon reality or the person who connects to other people by projecting their experience and to everyone else. Sometimes the more useful skill to
have is not to be able to wheel your reality into existence, but to be able to be so open so curious and humble that you become. someone capable of allowing reality in existence to speak through you running this. So did ended up being over an hour long when it was all said and done shows. Usually thirty minutes tops so out of respect to your expectations as the people that make the show possible. I split this podcast into good news, for you is that the second episode is already out. It was released right when I applauded this one. It's called simone veil part for vessels of god picks up right where this one left off both episodes kind. Need each other, so I hope you ll keep listening and, as usual, I hope in these episodes came out. You gotta notification on your phone in it it brought you're nothing but just positive thinking, vibes, not positive thinking, but, like thinking and we're moving up in that direction, thanks again for making this podcast able to continue talk to you next time
Transcript generated on 2023-04-12.