Shortcut Mental Imperatives
by phil on Tuesday Apr 29, 2003 7:57 PM
Phil's Articles, self-programming, thinking strategies
In the Matrix, Neo walks into the Oracle's kitchen and the Oracle points up, above Neo's head, and reads off the maxim, "Know thyself"
This is a reference to one of the two phrases above the actual Greek Oracle temple. (Thanks to Paul Legutko for these)
Medan Agan - Everything in Moderation
Gnothi Seauton - Know thyself
The wisdom of these two phrases never ceases to be powerful. The "Everything in Moderation" imperative is actually the most basic imperative of subjectivity. And since I believe that life is both an Art and a Science, it's fitting that subjectivity is at the centrepoint. Subjectivity, the capability of the subject to freely determine the weight of something is pretty much the essence of Art. By being subjective, by making decisions, by exercising judgement, especially in favor of not doing something excessively, one takes direction over one's life. And self-benefit is precisely the reason for following a maxim. Sure, it IS at some times, good to do things in excess, in which case, it's not truly an excess, but an excess in disguise as necessary volume.
As for "Know thyself," this is a bit more controversial. Nietzsche criticizes the idea of "knowing yourself" in the Gay Science. I can never pinpoint a good argument why he dislikes it except for the fact that he is irritated by those who falsely assume they know themselves. Many people can only know through their conscious thoughts and therefore tend to ignore their more subconscious, primitive, and usually evil, urges. This fits in well with Nietzsche's go-evil stance in general and also helps justify his personal inabilities with dealing with his own unparalleled insanities. Oscar Wilde is also another lamenter of the move to lift under the hood. He has a similar justification as does Nietzsche, thinking that those who walk around with the presumption that they understand themselves are just shallow. However, it's possible he dislikes it for simply artistic reasons. Having yourself always at a distance from itself will indeed make life seem more dramatic, more mysterious, more interesting. If that's your cup of tea, be my guest. I'd take the drama and the art, but not the deep-set lows, slavery, and self-loathing pain that comes with being disconnected from oneself.
Having said that, I think that knowing yourself is relevant. Even if you can't know yourself in a complete sense, but always being aware of what you feel, what you need, what you want etc. If life is Observe, Analyze, Apply, and you are the sole judge, jury, and executioner of your actions (an existentialist assumption), then the best observations one could make are about themselves.
I've noticed that everything can be reduced to information judo. If you are depressed, upset, unhappy, in pain, etc.. it's due to some folding of information combined with a desire to resolve. If you have the spigot of information about yourself cut-off, it'll be extremely hard to operate on yourself. Or to put another way, it's terribly hard for a doctor to perform an operation or diagnosis without a proper analysis of the symptoms. If you can't respond to yourself, then good luck, your "self" will wither. This is not necessarily a terrible proposition for society as this homo sapien template is designed to handle servants and tyrants. You can either choose or be chosen, but at least if you choose, you have the opportunity to avoid undesired servitude.
So, once again, go Ancient Greeks. And as for categorical imperatives are concerned, those two are the best I've discovered. Although, categorical imperatives should be avoided anyways.
DISCLAIMER: I'm probably abusing the word categorical imperative. I haven't studied up on the subject enough, so forgive my reinterpretation for philosophistry