TauPhi Level 03
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Posts by TauPhi

    To repeat: additions, subtractions, clarifications, suggestions, etc., are welcome, especially as to citations to include under each bullet point. This will always be a "work in progress."

    As I've mentioned above, I like this outline a lot so I'd like to contribute to it a little, if possible. This is kinda big but also kinda debatable. Whether it's worth including in the outline, I leave it to you Cassius.

    It's about Canonics and possible forth criterion of truth. As it stands for now, and quite rightly, you describe Canonics as 'Knowledge Can Be Obtained Through the Sensations, Anticipations, and Feelings.'

    These three are well established:

    sensations - aistheseis

    anticipations - prolepseis

    feelings - pathe

    There is, however, possible forth criterion:

    mind perceptions - phantastikai epibolai tes dianoias

    It is mentioned both in Letter to Herodotus [51] and Principal Doctrine #24. Whether Epicurus treated this criterion as a fully-fledged, legitimate forth criterion is not clear. Some scholars say he did and it was added to the Canon later by him and some scholars believe Epicurus didn't treat this criterion on a par with the remaining three. We probably won't ever know for sure but since Epicurus himself talks about it, I think it is beneficial for everyone to be familiar with it.

    Merit isn't always what sustains something. Sometimes it's who you know.

    There is a good reason why The Holy Church of Sticking Pencils into Eyeballs doesn't exist. I'm sure at one point in human (and pencils) history someone tried to get salvation by such a creative usage of their pencils. That idea has no merit. An idea has to have some merit in order to get widespread and passed on. Connections help but even if you knew everyone in this world (and all the other possible worlds where pencils were invented) you wouldn't be able to become a Pencil Prophet. It's always merit (even if we personally don't agree with it). Who you know sometimes helps.

    If you'll check out the link starting at 7:23 you will see a fiveminute long dramatic reading of Cleanthes' Hymn to Zeus. Seems to me that watching this is really good for helping it sink in how utterly anchored Stoicism is in a theistic world-view. In the Stoic framework Zeus gives orders to nature in every bit as sweeping way as any Abrahamic religion ever dreamed of. In my view it's only in this kind of framework that Stoicism makes any kind of sense at all -- and if you once reject the theistic base, the rest falls away quickly too.

    I'm the last person on Earth willing to defend Stoicism but I don't think watching anything for five minutes is really good for anything. It's not fair to any school of philosophy to make quick judgements like that. After all, if someone wants to spend 5 minutes on Epicureanism and reaches for the most famous text on it, they get this:

    Mother of Rome, delight of Gods and men,

    Dear Venus that beneath the gliding stars

    Makest to teem the many-voyaged main

    And fruitful lands- for all of living things

    Through thee alone are evermore conceived [...]

    My point is, it should take time and effort to get to the point of accepting something or rejecting it. Stoicism is not evil. It's just another school of thought. For us here, it's deeply flawed school of thought but it doesn't take anything from the fact it's most interesting to spend some time studying Stoicism. It has to have some merit to it. If it fell away quickly, it would have been forgotten long time ago.

    This reminds me of a speech delivered by one of my favourite writers (and philosophers) - Douglas Adams. He explains perfectly why humans tend to think that everything was created for us and everything revolves around our a**es. In my opinion, Adams does even better job than Lucretius.

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    We can't decide whether something is pleasurable or painful. It's immediate, pre-rational.

    Am I missing something here? If this would be the case, we could throw Epicurean calculus out of a window, forget about any form of philosophy and jump from the nearest, highest building because flying sounds like something cool to do this Monday evening.

    Powarkow only refers to A. F. Losiew and just mentions Hermann Diels in passing without any references. The A. F. Losiew's work in question in called 'Anticznaja fiłosofija istorii' published in Moscow in 1977. The title is a transliteration from Russian and it most likely means something like 'History of Ancient Philosophy'. It's probably another obscure work not available in English. Sorry, Don.

    I did some digging, however, and this passage seems to be closely linked with Epicurus' doctrine of atomic minima (the elachista theory).

    Epicurus talks about it in Letter to Herodotus (paragraphs 55 to 59). In p.59 he talks specifically about minimum magnitudes devoid of parts (ta elachista kai amere). I didn't pay much attention to this in the past but the way Powarkow talks about it hit me hard. It seems to be very important addition to/deviation from Democritus' work.

    Lucretius also talks about this in Book I (599–634) and Book II (481–499).

    I'm reading a rather obscure book on Epicurus by a Russian guy called Jan Powarkow. Unfortunately, to my knowledge, there's no English translation of it. I came across this footnote and I was absolutely amazed by it. I didn't realise Greek Atomism was so advanced. I heard about 'atomos' but when I read about 'ameres' I told to myself: no way Greeks came up with this!

    Anyway, I thought this fragment is interesting enough so I leave English translation for you:

    [...] A. F. Losiew writes that traditionalists in the history of philosophy do not attribute any significance to the fact that Greek Atomism fundamentally distinguishes the terms atomos (indivisible) and ameres (not consisting of parts). S. J. Lurie quotes a number of fragments to document this distinction, but it should be emphasized that the most important of them were previously quoted by H. Diels.

    In a nutshell: atomos differ from ameres in that despite their indivisibility, they consist of certain parts, while ameres no longer consist of any parts and they themselves constitute the boundary of division, being both indivisible lines, indivisible planes, and indivisible bodies and generally indivisible units. Of course, ameres constitute a kind of intellectual construction, almost immaterial. In any case, they have no weight and are conceived as if within the atoms themselves. [...]

    Thank you for your post Godfrey. I'll try to clarify few things and explain in more detail where I suspect our points of view differ.

    Firstly, this:

    For something to be a pleasure, by definition it must be felt. With this in mind, a "background state" could easily be misconstrued (and typically is, outside of this forum) as a "neutral state", even though I don't think that's what you're saying TauPhi .

    I am strongly opposed to the idea of a "neutral state". I agree with Epicurus that there are only two distinct states (pleasure and pain). Katastematic pleasure, in my understanding, has nothing to do with neutrality. Quite contrary, it's felt constantly throughout one's life and is sometimes disturbed by pain caused mainly (but not only) by fear which distorts our perception of life's experiences. So, in my mind, katestematic pleasure is synonymous to background noise to life or a will to live or healthy release of dopamine in our brains. It is close to @Don's metaphor of an ocean (if I read it as intended) or mine of a forest which I made sometime in the past. It's what makes us want to experience life.

    Which brings me to your next observation. Here we definitely see things differently.

    But, to me, this mustn't be considered simply background noise, and it still consists of intensity, location and duration.

    "Background noise" might not be perfect description of katastematic pleasure but I hope my clarification above gives better picture of how I see this kind of pleasure. I treat it separately from every other pleasure (for me every other pleasure is kinetic) and I deprive katastematic pleasure of duration for a reason. The duration is there but the pleasure lasts exactly as long as our lives and ends with our death.

    If katastematic pleasure would be fleeting and unstable and lasted only for some time, k/k division would make no sense and would be reduced to an absurd. I mean, how much time do we need to declare a pleasure long-lasting so it's katastematic and no longer kinetic? 15 minutes? Two days? 5 years? At this point we might as well start discussing which superhero is better, Superman or Spiderman?

    As far as the remaining two descriptors are concerned (location and intensity), I have my reservations as well.

    Location is simpler, so I start with this one. Katastematic pleasure, they way I understand it, is located in our minds. By that I mean our minds, if they are healthy, interpret our lives as a pleasurable phenomenon.

    Intensity is the descriptor I have the most problems with. And it applies to both katastematic and kinetic pleasures. In my eyes, this descriptor is too vague to be considered a good descriptor of pleasure. Which pleasure is more intense? Eating strawberry ice cream or watching sunset at the seaside? There is innumerable variety of pleasure and all of it is unquantifiable. How can we say that one variety of pleasure is more intense than the other? Ice cream is 5 and sunset is 3?

    Even if we consider only one variant of a pleasure, let's say watching sunset, and try to establish intensity levels we hit the wall quite quickly. Watching sunset for 2 seconds is less pleasurable than watching it for the whole minute? If yes, by a factor of what?

    So, I say yes to variety of pleasures but I'm not too sure about intensity of pleasures.

    (Think of times when your body feels really great or your mind is really clear. For me, these times are fleeting. If they're long lasting for you, tell me how you do it!)

    I wish I could tell you how I do it but, unfortunately, I don't so I can't. And I hope I was clear about that katastematic pleasure is neither of these things, in my humble opinion. I treat both clarity of mind and healthy body as kinetic pleasures. No matter if they last a day or a year. (Well, a year in my case is just wishful thinking at this point. I'm too old for that kind of privilege.)

    Here's my take on kinetic/katastematic pleasures. I don't give any guarantees whether this is a sound take but you can take my take as a takeaway and feed your thoughts with it, if you wish burninglights.

    Katastematic pleasure is an embedded phenomenon in a sensory processing unit. In other words, everything that is alive, has senses and a brain (or the corresponding organ) capable of translating sensory inputs into experiences, is equipped with katastematic pleasure at birth. This pleasure is, simply put, background noise to life.

    As such, katastematic pleasure has nothing to do with intensity, location and duration. These can be descriptors of kinetic pleasures. If one really wants to apply these descriptors to human katastematic pleasure, they would look something like this:

    intensity: subjective and unquantifiable

    location: somewhere between one's ears

    duration: lifespan

    If a person has difficulties recognizing this background noise as a pleasure, or worse mistakes it for pain, their quality of life suffers and their lives turn into never-ending battle against ghosts that are not on there.

    Kinetic pleasures are everything else, including gratitude you were wondering about.

    First of all, #196 is really, really good. Well done Cassius, Joshua and Kalosyni. I smiled to myself several times during the podcast. The pleasure issues you're discussing and the points you're making are top-notch.

    I want to make a comment about these two excellent questions:

    When your mind is not being excited, but is operating at its normal speed and doing its normal things, is that something that can be well conveyed in English using the word "static"?

    When your body is not being stimulated through massage or in any other ways that moves the senses from their standard state of good health and operation, can that condition be conveyed using the word word "static"?

    "Normal speed of mind operation" and "standard state of good health and operation of the senses" seem to me as very good descriptive attempts at the act of living. And this is close to my understanding of katastematic pleasure. Here's the idea: The moment any life comes into existence is the moment katastematic pleasure arrives as well. Any being capable of experiencing pleasure has no choice but to experience katastematic pleasure. It's like air. It is air, in fact. It's a steady release of dopamine. It is the act of feeling. The act of living. It's with us always and it's only disrupted by pain. The pain in many shapes and forms. The fear of gods, death and spiders; kinetic pleasures going wrong; the pain of degrading body, weakening senses, loss of mind's sharpness. The pain is usually with us to some degree but katastematic pleasure is almost always stronger than our pain. That's the reason we choose to keep living. Also, we almost unanimously don't realise what we are equipped with since day one and, like Cicero, we are surprised that there isn't a third, neutral state between pleasure and pain.

    Oh, and I forgot to answer the questions. I'd say: No. 'Static' doesn't appear to be sufficient in this situation.

    When I come across random people who think that the world is collapsing and everything is worse and worse with every breath they take I generally smile politely and remove myself from their presence.

    When someone I care about adopts this mindset I try to pull them out of the darkness they got themselves into the best I can. Not limited to but I tend to use some variations of these arguments:

    - You think nowadays is horrible? Get any history book and read it until you find the chapter on how people peacefully lived for millennia among unicorns and rainbows without worries, wars and diseases.

    - Don't read, watch nor listen to the news for some time. You're not getting news anyway. You're getting stories filtered by corporate interests and governmental propaganda spiced with greed, violence and mind tricks to capitalise on your attention.

    - Do not isolate yourself. Force yourself, if you have to, and spend as much time as possible with people you love.

    - Move. Exercise. Play sports. Get yourself physically tired so you don't have energy to waste on imagining the worst possible version of the world you can think of.

    As far as religion goes, in moments like these I try to avoid the subject altogether. It's a near impossibility to convince people to change their deep rooted beliefs even when they think straight. When their minds are clouded with dark thoughts and mixed with a hope that calling Jesus at 1-800-Jesus-Save-Us-All is a solution, I smile politely and keep my mouth shut even if I care deeply for that person. That discussion can only do more harm than good.

    Few things that crossed my mind:

    1. The concept of free will is a crucial part of Epicurean Ethics. Swerving atoms and the consequence of this phenomenon should be included in the steps.

    2. Maybe it would be beneficial to name the concepts where applicable when describing ethical ideas (things like: atomism, hedonism, hedonistic calculus, egoism etc.)

    3. I agree with Don that points 5 & 6 are closely linked together.

    And perhaps for modern day Epicureans this would also include studying climate change so as to understand the rate in which climate is changing (for the sake of understanding safety).

    4. I'd personally drop the idea of mentioning climate change in the steps because:

    - it has never been a part of Epicurus teachings

    - it's politically charged topic which will most likely distract audience from the study of ethics

    - the study of climate change is by all means desirable but so is anything else that falls into natural science category

    - and lastly, to our knowledge Earth's climate changes permanently and periodically over the course of billions of years so whether we like it or not, we as species are definitely not safe on this planet and sooner or later our home will be home no more (at least for several thousands years until climate changes favourably once again)

    [Yes, I'm avoiding the issue of human impact on climate on purpose so please refrain yourself from making emotional comments below and let's all stick to philosophy ;)]

    I've been recently going through my stuff from the past due to a move and I came across my diploma paper based on Oscar Wilde's plays and it occurred to me that Mr. Wilde could have found Epicurean ideas very attractive. I don't know if he was familiar with Epicurus as I definitely wasn't almost 20 years ago so I never paid any attention to this side of Oscar Wilde's writings but I might investigate this in the future.

    Anyway, it's just a random thought that popped into my head the other day. And for those who have never read Oscar Wilde, give it a go. You won't regret it.

    And yet our bodies and our bones exist for a while, and our atoms never go away.

    I strongly disagree with this statement. It's not our bodies, our bones nor our atoms. 'Our' ceases to exist the moment we die. Our death is nothing to us because we can't experience it.

    When you say:

    We can see "dead bodies" in front of us for quite a while. The body that was a few minutes ago animated and alive is still mostly there, it's the consciousness that is gone.

    you're talking about death of somebody/something else. We can experience death this way because we're not dead ourselves. PD02 is clearly about OUR death not the concept of death in general. Maybe it would be a good idea to leave a footnote for PD02 making it clear that it's about OUR death.

    I'm 100% percent with Don on this one.

    the katastematic pleasure is the preferred background condition of being. Kinetic pleasure is the moment by moment awareness of individual pleasures. Katastematic pleasure is the calm ocean, kinetic pleasures are the waves.

    Don This metaphor of yours is pretty similar in essence to how I understand katastemic pleasure. My understanding is probably not even close to what Epicurus had in mind, but I kind of like it. Especially, because I came up with my metaphor thanks to one of my favourite dreams from the past. Anyway, here it is (the metaphor for katastemic pleasure, not the dream).

    I like to imagine myself as a lonely child in a deep forest for the first time. Inexperienced, ignorant and scared of my present surroundings. The forest is full of ghosts, screams and shadows. Everything seems hostile to me. Everything wants to hurt me. So I crouch up trembling next to the closest tree, praying for my life. And it seems to work. I'm still alive. And I eventually stop praying and I'm still alive. So I get up and get the courage to open my eyes and look around. I forgot for a moment that I'm scared and I start to investigate my surroundings. Enough time passes and I know now that the ghosts and shadows are caused by the sun and leaves. They are quite beautiful, in fact. Screams don't come from human flesh hungry beasts but animals living peacefully in the forest. I know the forest. I understand it. And one day when I'm comfortable and confident enough I close my eyes, spread my arms, smile and inhale in awe my beautiful forest. And from now on nothing is going to take that feeling of connection, harmony, inner peace and joy from me until I die. I know how to sustain that feeling because I know and understand enough.

    This is how I imagine katastemic pleasure and the ideal progress in life. It's quite close to ataraxia, I guess. As you said Don, katastemic pleasure is ever present background and it's there for grabs if one puts enough effort to understand how to get it. Kinetic pleasures are all the little things in between. In my metaphor, these are trees, leaves, sun and animals. They are temporary excitations that bring variety to life. And maybe I'm wrong imagining it this way but even then, it's a pleasant thought.

    Godfrey Thanks for your post #27. I loved it and it's hard not to agree with you but I'd like to comment on this sentence:

    Neurochemistry is the mechanism of pleasure but, to my way of thinking, doesn't supercede pleasure.

    When we talk about neurochemistry, we venture into the world of molecules and atoms. To me, atoms will always have precedence over everything. This is how I understand objective way of looking at things. Trying to understand objective truth about our existence gives us a chance for subjective, pleasant life as humans because objective knowledge removes subjective fears and destroys subjective superstitions. When I was talking about dopamine I didn't mean to suggest that it replaces pleasure. By saying that pleasure might not be the highest good I was coming from objective perspective. Objectively atoms and void are the highest good as they are building blocks of everything else.

    That said, I'm not sitting now in front of the screen thinking 'a combination of carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen and oxygen was just released by my neurons therefore I am capable of doing x and y'. I'm not a Spock. I'm purely human and from my subjective, human perspective I do find pleasure the ultimate motivator. I also fully realise that philosophy is a discipline invented by humans and is intended to be practiced from human perspective. I'm perfectly capable of thinking, talking and experiencing pleasure, feelings, friendship and everything else human but I try to remind myself that I live in the universe that is not created for me and all my subjective experiences most likely have objective truth behind them.

    I'll approach katastematic/kinetic pleasure from slightly different perspective. This is something I was entertaining myself with on one of my midnight walks. One day I was reading something about dopamine and its function as a neurotransmitter and it occurred to me that pleasure might not be the highest good, in fact. Technically, pleasure may be just an emergent phenomenon caused by release of dopamine in animals' brains. Dopamine makes us want to pursue (or avoid) things. Without it, we wouldn't be even talking about pleasure and pain. We simply wouldn't know what these are.

    To illustrate the power of dopamine, imagine yourself in front of a tasty looking burger. Next to the burger there are two pills. Let's make them red and blue for dramatic, Matrix-like purposes. Blue pill contains a chemical that completely blocks dopamine release in the brain. Swallow the pill and you would be staring at the burger until you die of hunger. You would have no motivation to eat it. You would not know what pleasure is. The red pill is cocaine-like chemical. Swallow it and you would find yourself devouring the burger is a state of ecstasy due to dopamine release flood. That would be the most pleasant burger in your life.

    My point is, katastematic pleasure is a healthy, constant release of dopamine in our brains which allows us to feel pleasure anytime we're not in pain. This, to me, is the actual state of ataraxia. Enough dopamine to experience the pleasure of existence and to evoke the will to sustain that existence for as long as it's pleasurable.

    Kinetic pleasure is a temporary spike of dopamine that makes us pursue imminent but short-lasting pleasures. I also consider it the main source of variety in experiencing pleasures discussed in PD18.