A title that I can’t be bothered to think too hard about, so this is what it’s going to end up being.


I have not read Faust, but I have seen Jan Svankmeier’s animated adaptation. There is an exchange between the Devil and Faust that goes like this:

Faust: “So still I seek the force, the reason governing life’s flow; and not just its external show.”

Devil: “The governing force? The reason? Some things cannot be known; they are beyond your reach even when shown.”

Faust: “Why should that be so?”

Devil: “They lie outside the boundaries that words can address; & man can only know those thoughts which language can express.”

Faust: “What? Do you mean that words are greater yet than man?”

Devil: “Indeed they are.”

Faust: “Then what of longing, affection, pain or grief. I can’t describe these, yet I know they are in my breast. What are they?”

Devil: “Without substance, as mist is.”

Faust: “In that case man is only air as well. [reads] What has made me thirst then to be instructed in those things that are more than thirst allows?”

Devil: “Your thirst is artificial, fostered by the arrogance in you. So look no further than all your human brothers do: sleep, eat, drink, and let that be sufficient.”

Faust: “Liar and foul traitor, where are the pulse and core of nature you promised to reveal? Where?”

Devil: “Faustus you lack the wit to see them in every blade of grass.”

There are things that when you see them or hear them, they stay with you. This was one of them. I recently came across an article titled Why it’s good to be wrong – I’m going to share a couple of bits from it.

The trouble is that error is a subject where issues such as logical paradox, self-reference, and the inherent limits of reason rear their ugly heads in practical situations, and bite.

Paradoxes seem to appear when one considers the implications of one’s own fallibility: A fallibilist cannot claim to be infallible even about fallibilism itself. And so, one is forced to doubt that fallibilism is universally true. Which is the same as wondering whether one might be somehow infallible—at least about some things. For instance, can it be true that absolutely anything that you think is true, no matter how certain you are, might be false?

Being a person who has a hard time sounding as clever as he’d like when writing things down, but nonetheless likes to imagine that he is a bit clever and tries to read clever things and be exposed to clever films and music, and try to retain interesting bits of information, it hurts (I guess I should say ‘stings’, it seems a tiny bit more accurate and I can’t be bothered to edit this properly) when I see that I might be massively, massively thick and without the faintest hint of a clue about what to do with what I think I know… I relate to Faust, trying to get deep answers and expecting to understand them. I even expect the answers to be incomprehensible, yet because I’m extremely clever, I expect to understand this.

Here’s another bit from the article:

[T]here’s nothing infallible about “direct experience” either. Indeed, experience is never direct. It is a sort of virtual reality, created by our brains using sketchy and flawed sensory clues, given substance only by fallible expectations, explanations, and interpretations. Those can easily be more mistaken than the testimony of the passing hobo. If you doubt this, look at the work of psychologists Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons, and verify by direct experience the fallibility of your own direct experience. Furthermore, the idea that your reminiscences are infallible is also heresy by the very doctrine that you are faithful to.

Some context won’t make sense – there’s a very good bit using papal infallibility as an example and a counterpoint with a hobo. It’s a good article, read it. Also, I haven’t bothered to click the link, but I think I’ve seen the videos (Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons’ video,that is) and there’s a huge gorilla that you won’t notice. It’s quite an effective demonstration but I’ve heard it referenced by so many people now that it’s become a bit of a cliché. Not sure that invalidates it though.

I realized that if I was going to be thorough and honest that I couldn’t rely on my own experience. It is natural to rely on experience. “Experience is the best teacher” is a maxim that has been heard many times. But for certain types of truth, or “Truth”, it is plain rubbish. I came to this conclusion a few years ago, when I noticed that I had been demonstrably wrong about many things, some of which I had believed deeply. Things ranging from youthful anatomical misunderstandings to more nebulous areas such as the ability of dedicated martial artists to perform near magical feats. The advantage of having been an idiot as a child and teenager is that once you get over it, it frees you from the need to feel anchored to a personal identity, or at least that you need to defend it. I had been wrong, and sadly some people suffered (I was a bully, and I am very ashamed of this). So what is it that makes me think that I’m right at this moment? Why would I assume I am totally correct about my philosophies and world views now? I shouldn’t. I’m going to be a bit pushy and suggest that neither should anyone else. Perhaps it had always been annoying when people used examples from their experiences as a basis for an argument, even (especially) when I did it, but I didn’t know why. Sometimes it’s nice to overlook things.

Anyway, what point am I trying to make? I guess I’ve made it. I’m a massive idiot, and when I’m not being terrified by it I take consolation only in that I have plenty of company. I will still be living under the delusion that I’m clever and capable, because what else can I do? (Probably loads, but that’s the kind of moron I am). I will live as best as I can.

The end. Of this post.

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