Recently I have been dipping my toe into the world of two very different neuroscientists. The first is Mark Solms, who also doubles as a psychoanalyst and who has recently retranslated some of Freud’s seminal works. He contends that there is a proven neurological basis for many of Freud’s concepts, certainly of the unconscious. The second is Sam Harris, who also doubles as a philosopher and both writes and lectures on some of the great questions of life. In my attempts to grapple with what I felt might be the latter’s few apparent inconsistencies, I stumbled upon an Australian philosopher Russell Blackford, many of whose views appeal to me, who speaks for one notion of compatibilism and who also accepts the notion of an unconscious whilst firmly stating a disbelief in the theories of Freud. A nice mix. I like the almost identical conclusions of all three in the realm of ethical behaviour and their gentle, mannered, whilst absolute, criticisms of the logic of the others’ journeys toward similar conclusions.
This has taken me back in time to that period of childhood between the attainment of the ability to functionally read and attendance at University. In that halcyon period of reading one is uninhibited by anything except availability and I was therefore fortunate enough to be able to read quite different genres in any order at all. I read randomly. As with most of the young, my early philosophy was absorbed through children’s books such as those of Mark Twain, Lewis Carroll and Charles Kingsley and moved on unsystematically to a range of very basic formal philosophic ideas. I grabbed bits from everyone without the capacity to use that cop out “eclectic”.
University and work, though both are enjoyable and satisfying and very absorbing have the effect of specifically channelling reading. My greatest delight during Uni studies has always been the reading lists so one does not do the hard work of reading and having to eliminate all the rubbish for oneself. (And for a little light relief, when one is not keeping up with educational or professional reading, there is time left for who-done-its.)
But, in retirement, being able to go back to the those halcyon days of random reading has made me ask myself a question. I have had a great deal of experience due to the passing of years. Is this a help or a hindrance in my ability to analyse or accept ideas?
Naturally I thought that some direct and indirect experience of important issues such as free will, lying and the role of the unconscious in our lives would be helpful. But does it make the thinker view these questions through a far too focused prism largely because of these very life experiences? Can I even hypothesise that my neurological framework has been altered by these past focuses? Could I accept that my unconscious might drive me to be less accepting because of fears for the future based on the past?
Wouldn’t it be wonderful get a roomful of eager thirteen to sixteen year olds, spread across a wide genetic background and with different childhood experiences but all with an interest in these questions, and see what comes out of a week long unguided totally random interchange of ideas on some topics such as Lying, Free Will, The Subconscious, Punishment in Contemporary Society and so forth? I would be an interested fly on the wall.
Meanwhile Lee Childs, please bring out your new novel soon. Reacher always knows exactly what to do and why.