Rejecting the Core of Your Own Identity, Research Time, 16/02/2018

The funny thing about reading up on the influences of contemporary thinkers is how much baggage you have to sort through and throw away. And I’m not just talking about the poorly-written essays.*

* But there are a lot of poorly-written essays. I won’t name names, but I really want to.

I mean the concepts that create intractable, insoluble problems. These are the problems that define philosophical and metaphysical inquiries for literally centuries. Thousands of people across the tradition search for solutions – major, minor, underground, and utterly unremarkable thinkers.

But the most success they have is remixing the problem into new contexts. They can never solve these problems because the terms of the problem are set up in such a way that it is insoluble.

In particular, I’m talking about the mind-world problem. There are a few essays in Deleuze’s Philosophical Legacy that talk about this – which I find hilarious, because Gilles Deleuze never considered it an issue.

You could say – because I don't want to say it
definitively, but I still find it fascinating – that
Deleuze's most important idea for any thinker
to understand is his notion of philosophy as
the exploration and mapping of conceptual
terrain, rather than finding definitive answers
to questions.
I used to consider it an issue. It was the main concept I latched onto when I was first studying philosophy of mind in my early 20s. And it was one of the first philosophical concepts I ever studied, because my first ever philosophy course started with a month studying Descartes’ Meditations.

The mind-world problem has persisted through centuries of Western thought. The main reason it did was because it’s literally an insoluble problem – you can’t repair it on its own terms. You always end up in some terrible situation.

A big one is the problem of other minds – when you separate mind from world, you end up threatened by a solipsistic prison. In the essay in that volume about Edmund Husserl’s influence on Deleuze, they discuss how Husserl’s thinking floundered and even crashed on the problem of other minds.

He theorized endlessly – especially in the unpublished draft manuscripts, of which there are horrifyingly large amounts – about the encounter between yourself and others. But he could never really get past conceiving it as an encounter with the Other.

At most, other people become abstract. They’re the harbingers of an encounter with the Other. But the actual identities and existence of those other people can’t break through.

So when Deleuze engaged this problem, what did he do to get around it? Well, seeing how Deleuze repaired the mind-body problem was a big part of what first turned me on to his thought.

He didn’t. He just didn’t care about it.

That’s all you need to do! The mind-world problem arose from a few key works that engaged with the philosophical problems of their own times, and were influential enough to change the orientations of whole fields of philosophical questioning.

What the mind-world problem ends up doing is creating an empirically senseless dualism. There’s the individual mind of a single creature on one side – on the other side there’s all the other variety and diversity in the world. But its core framework reduces all that variety in our actual experiences to an abstraction – the encounter with the Other.

Understand this, and it isn’t a problem to be solved. You understand the mind-world problem as a breakdown in thought – an obsessive focus on a problem that takes you away from the problems of real existence.

The problem breaks thought because it keeps you from thinking of anything else and can’t actually be solved. So get rid of it.

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