How to Grasp the Inconceivable

The basic issue of this web log is trying to reconcile these two true statements

1)There is a lot that is inconceivable

2)Talking about the inconceivable is meaningless, cause it’s inconceivable.

Maybe this is a step towards the answer:

If you are really really tired and terrified you can’t conceive of your situation, but you may have to move forward.  Like supposing you are on a mountain ridge, it’s freezing, the enemies are shooting at you, and you’re wounded.  You have to make the decision to camp for the night where you’re being fired at or to try to make a run for it.  In that situation the situation you are in is inconceivable to you — you’re too tired and scared for rational thought.  Nevertheless you are able to move forward.

How?  Not sure.  Maybe trusting your body, or your habits, or your colleagues?  Dim memories of what you thought when you could think more clearly?  The point is you can get through it although you can’t think your way through.

I think that is what we are like in our normal lives for some issues. MY1_9937_L[2]-1


6 thoughts on “How to Grasp the Inconceivable

  1. Sean F says:

    Isn’t the inconceivability of some circumstances only troubling if you’re over-intellectualizing those circumstances, a la Vizzini in The Princess Bridge? So why do your two true statements, that there is a lot that is inconceivable, and that talking about the inconceivable, need to be reconciled? Where is the paradox there? It only seems to be paradoxical on the assumption that action requires consciousness of each action. As an exercise, think each action of your body as it occurs: “now my eyes saccade across the computer screen and the muscles around my lungs and heart expand and contract and my eyelids shut and my left foot taps and my fingers type and my back arches and…” ad infinitum, all the time.

    Another possibility is that my conception of things is more like a post hoc veneer of interpretation than a causally necessity for action. That seems to me like a pretty decent answer to why people are able to live with wildly different beliefs. If concepts were necessary for skillful coping action, how could animals thrive? I guess that’s why your final point is that “you can get through it although you can’t think your way through.”

  2. shanestranahan says:

    The late historian Carroll Quigley – conspiracy theorist, so largely ignored, but a talented teacher and an efficient summist – made(/summarized) an interesting point about how humans have a drive towards certainty (that can be distinguished from but is clearly interdependent with our drive towards knowledge) which gives rise to our endemic desire or maybe need for religion, spirituality, and other recursive self-supporting epistemological systems. This is a higher-order desire/need than the drive towards knowledge, though, partly because knowledge is all that can be used to verify knowledge (lovely tautologies), and partly because it’s more biologically primary to know, than to know what you know, let alone whether what you know is *really* knowledge. Anyway, Quigley called this the religious drive, which some might dislike, and it seems like you’re trying to approach an essentially religious (using his terminology) problem: how do we address the fact that that which we cannot address is the fact itself?

    Every religion I know of talks about this – you’ve pulled some of ’em in – and lots of philosophy does too. You’re getting at the same issues.

    I’m curious, though: why did you clarify what you’re trying to do in this post?

    • Sean F says:

      Apologies for the lengthy quotation, but I cannot paraphrase Thoreau in good conscience: “I think that we may safely trust a good deal more than we do. We may waive just so much care of ourselves as we honestly bestow elsewhere. Nature is as well adapted to our weakness as to our strength. The incessant anxiety and strain of some is a well-nigh incurable form of disease. We are made to exaggerate the importance of what work we do; and yet how much is not done by us!……Confucius said, ‘To know that we know what we know, and that we do not know what we do not know, that is true knowledge.’ When one man has reduced a fact of the imagination to be a fact to his understanding, I foresee that all men at length establish their lives on that basis.” (Walden)

      Shane, forgive my ignorance, but does Quigley call it the religious drive to suggest that it is dogmatic? That is, that it leads to the construction of internally coherent ‘recursive self-supporting epistemological systems’ of which religions are paradigmatic? If so, how is the drive for certainty affected when it becomes empirically obvious that one’s own ‘religion’ (or science, or logic, or constitution, or whatever) is opposed by many other systems of belief, with adherents who also claim certainty in their own internally coherent beliefs?

      • ShaneStranahan says:

        In response to your first question: nope!

        He was ‘religious’ in the usual sense. He also believed that this drive rewarded us and was rewarded by us through unremitting self-appraisal, and that if ignored it would supply a serious risk of our falling into dogmatism, which is a form of epistemic retardation, which would likely limit our longevity and lower our quality of life.

        At the same time, though, our knowledge needs to have a foundation or we can’t take action. This returns us to the point of Eric’s whole thingamajig.

        I’m paraphrasing Quigley, and there’s a strong dose of interpretation in here. My conscience is quieter than yours in this regard. =P

        I’m still confused about why Eric posted this one so literally, though. It’s almost like he was putting together a puzzle using posts on this blog, one whose final outline I didn’t know, and then he turned the box over and now I know the point. But maybe a better metaphor would be that the puzzle he’s laying out is just a piece in something larger that he (and we) are still creating. Though I like the whole thing either way.

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