The Philosophy Of Allan Kurzberg: A Brief Summary, Part 2.

Allan Kurzberg was suspicious of philosophies that seemed to utilize ad hoc neologisms and undue complexity.  “To be sure, mathematics may become highly abstract and complex.  However, such complexity has a specific purpose:  to try to gain as precise an understanding  of a particular concept.  In philosophy, complexity often masks a lack of understanding of fundamental concepts”.  He would shake his head when he thought of the writing of F.S.C. Northrop, “This writer seems to list a string of adjectives that make his ideas well-nigh incomprehensible!  I defy anyone to tell me what the following statement means:  “The economic-political socio-historical physical-analytical process of Italy evolved in artistic and scientific conceptualizing, while maintaining its unique global outlook.”  Allan would remind me of Stuart Chase’s book, The Tyranny of Words.  “Robert!  If you ever get the chance, read Stuart’s book and think about some of his criticism!  Words are fine in their own way.  As a character in a Samuel Beckett novel stated, “Words are no shoddier than what they peddle.”  “However, in philosophy we should attempt to elucidate and explain rather than bewilder and confuse.  I might add Piet Hein’s Grook:  “To make a name in learning when other paths are barred, take something very simple and make it very hard!”

Allan liked to ponder on free will and determinism.  He would tell me that to prove there is no free will all one had to do was to take an event, say t7, and show that one had no choice but to act as one did.  If you could do that, then for all events after t7 and preceding it the same conclusion must be true, because you can’t say that you did not have free will for t7, but you did for t11, or t4.  Kurzberg himself did not believe in free will.  He thought that once you were placed in an environment, a host of influences arising from that environment would begin to serve as forces that you would sway you in a particular direction when making any decision.  He would say, ” The philosophical belief that at birth the mind is”tabula rasa” is not tenable, because we know by definition that humans come into the world with motivational forces that I call: E+, E-, OE+, OE-, and r.  That is, humans are irrational beings that are mostly capable of rational thought.  The belief of Rousseau in “the noble savage” is equally false.  And the overemphasis on the role of rational thought from The Age of Enlightenment is also not supportable.  It has taken two world wars and a host of smaller ones to show what motivational forces influence the human mind…”

In the next segment I will show what event what brought Allan and I together and how we shared some important experiences.

Some Wisdom From Rene Magritte

Rene Magritte, the Belgian surrealist, was a painter of the mind and of a philosophical orientation.  First, a word about surrealism.  This artistic movement in the 20th century arose primarily because of two factors:  1:   World War I blasted the concept of rational man into outer space; and 2:  improved techniques in photography rendered portrait painting obsolete.  Surrealism sought to extend artistic possibilities into the infinite, including combinations of objects, which were previously thought absurd.  Not surprisingly, Lewis Carroll’s “mad” wonderland became an inspiration for several surrealists.  However,  many of Magritte’s striking juxtapositions are not absurd; they are satirical, disturbing, and, most often, they provoke thought.  In fact, Magritte posed the question:  “A picture is a window that looks out on something.  The question is, on what?”  He also teases us about the reality of what he paints.  In a series of increasingly detailed portrayals of a pipe, the message in the paintings reads:  “This is not a pipe.”  Magritte insists on the portrayal as an image, not an actual entity.  How bemused he would have been to live in today’s world, which swarms with enticing, beckoning images, and that which is real and not real is increasingly blurred.  But Magritte’s world was the landscape of the mind, and in the “pipe” example he wondered about the naming of things with a ferocity of a Wittgenstein.  To him, labels were a mental comfort zone, making the realm of the unknown more palatable.  Imagine looking at Necktie Falls without the human term “necktie.”  The falls might look very different, perhaps more threatening.  Magritte believed that one of the properties of the human mind was to label or to find an explanation of things and his juxtapositions are purposely disturbing.  He wants the mind to be uncomfortable and decried any attempt to find a definite meaning in his paintings.  Perhaps, his most profound saying is one which I call Magritte’s Paradox:  “If we look at a thing with the intention of discovering what it means, we end up no longer looking at the thing itself, but thinking of the question that is being raised.”  Magritte’s Paradox has implications in almost all facets of life, including critical analysis and personal relationships.  In other words, as soon as we focus with intent, we necessarily distort and limit the possibilities.  I believe that Magritte would have agreed with Russian novelist Vladimir Nabokov, who saw reality as “without bottom, hence unquenchable, unfathomable.”

If You Study German, You Better Love Commas

If you study German, you better love commas.  Forget the other unimportant punctuation marks such as periods, question marks, exclamation marks, semicolons, and colons.  Focus on commas, your deepest love.  Only then will you truly grasp the nature of clauses.  And, most importantly, you will be on your way to finding the mysterious verb and subject.  German is a kind of puzzle.  Perhaps that’s why the Germans produced so many great philosophers.  It’s a language that abounds in tricks and words that have many meanings dependent on their context or function in the sentence.  Ganz abgesehen, German can be great fun to read.  Get a hold of German for Reading by Sandberg and Wendel, and in 6-8 months you will read German fluently.  This wonderful text contains actual excerpts from the writings of:  Freud, Jung, Jaspers, Engels, and Schweitzer, among others.  Good luck!