Impressive Revelations

I used to be the kind of person who had a lot of ideas about the world. I liked to take people to book stores because I thought that if they could see how smart and original I was among all of the book titles, they would most definitely like me. When I was still in high school, this worked out alright. I thought the “discoveries” I was making about the world were truths. I thought that I was moving to some better, more noble end.

Then, I started to be wrong. It started out with small things. Like someone would ask me if judgment was spelled like judge-ment and I would say of course so. Because that just makes sense. Or someone would ask for a book recommendation, and I would give them my favorite book, and they wouldn’t like it. And all of this seemed really strange and unforeseeable.

Then I started to be wrong about bigger things. I would misjudge other people’s emotions. I found myself regularly overhauling my philosophical ideologies. If you ask some of my closest friends, my most used phrase is “I realized” or “I had the realization that.” I constantly think that I am having revelations. And maybe I am, but chances are I’m not “right” about them, if they are happening so frequently that it takes me more time to tie my shoelaces than it does to decide I’m a “new person.”

I thought that all of this was really unique to me. And then I started learning about Alfred Adler in my psychology class. Adler was really into impressionist art. He thought it told a lot about the world. In class, our professor showed us a picture of an impressionist painting, and he asked us what it would look like if we had our noses pressed up against it. All it would have been is seemingly random brushstrokes of color. And then he asked us what it looked like from where we were sitting. We told him it looked like a stream in the woods, but that’s about all we could make out. Everything else was blurred and beautiful.

"Soleil Levant" - Claude Monet

And I started thinking that God must think we are really funny. Some of us spend our whole lives with our noses stuck to His painting, sure that we know exactly what that random brushstroke means until we are bumped a little and we have to figure out a new random brushstroke. And then some of us think that we are better than those other museum patrons, thinking that we are seeing the full picture. But even those people aren’t able to say more than if the painting generally resembles a stream or mountain or pond.

I think we can see whatever we want in that painting so we should make sure it’s beautiful.

What do you see?

“As If” I Were Blogging

It’s often surprising to me that I’m not more artistically inclined. I had a great great uncle who was a cartoonist by trade. But apparently that gene was recessive or something because I didn’t get it. It’s strange though because I like to oversimplify my life into snapshots. You would think I would make a natural photographer. My close friends chide me for this. I do it with just about everything. It’s part of the reason why I crush so hard. (I haven’t really brought this up before, but I do, in fact, crush hard.) I latch on to a specific moment or a specific picture of a girl, and I construct a whole ideal and romantic story surrounding that moment or picture. It’s not entirely based on reality.

It’s not surprising, then, that I’ve always had a very definite picture in my head of my adult life. Now don’t laugh. It sounds idyllic and stereotypical and stuff, but it’s all that I really want.

This is what future me looks like. It's not a golden retriever, but everything else is pretty spot on.

I have an image of me age 30 or so. Back when I was still in high school this picture involved me being taller, maybe 5’10” or something, but at this point, I don’t think that’s going to happen. But I am a little more filled out. 30-year-old me is a regular attendee at his gym. He’s not body builder big but he’s got arms bigger than pencils. He has short hair and his skin is clear. He’s clean shaven. He’s wearing a flannel. It’s brisk outside, and he’s in the middle of a field. It’s fall and on all sides of the field are tees that are changing color. Some of the leaves are falling into the field. And there’s a golden retriever. And that dog loves 30-year-old me. And that’s it. That’s my picture of the future.

I like to live “as if” this future is true. It certainly seems attainable. This guy Hans Vaihinger constructed a whole philosophy around this “as if” thing in the 1930s. He said that because we can’t ever really know for sure what’s going on, we behave “as if” our constructs of the world are true. The psychologist Alfred Adler thought that we develop psychological problems when the “as if” of our constructs doesn’t match up with what’s really going on.

The thing about the snapshots is that they contain a lot more than they appear to. In my picture of the future, I know that the flannel-wearing 30-year-old is a good man. He cares about a lot of people, and they all know that he cares about him. Maybe he has kids who he wisely teaches. Maybe he has a wife who he loves selflessly. Maybe he has a career where he influences a lot of people or maybe he has a career where he gets to have close relationships with a few really awesome people. But I know he’s good. I know that he reads a lot, watches old movies, goes to concerts, and hasn’t played a video game since college. I know that he writes. I know that he loves God and wisely shows it.

It’s interesting because I know that he has all of these traits. I don’t perceive him “as if” he has all of these traits.

In philosophy 101 one of the first things you learn is the “is-ought” fallacy. It says that we cannot get morality or normative claims directly from descriptions of the world. Just because there is violence in the world, for instance, doesn’t mean there should be.  I think Vaihinger’s “as if” is more a descriptive than a normative claim. It’s no secret that most people act “as if” the world they have created is true.  But I don’t think it’s the way it has to be or even should be. What if, instead of acting as if I would one day become that person in my picture of the future, I knew that I am that person?

What are you acting “as if” is reality that you could be making a reality instead?