The Elusive Truth

One of the first things you’re told when taking philosophy papers in university is that there is a right and a wrong way to argue and that the right way is in pursuit of the truth.

But what is “the truth”?

There are those who believe there is a truth in a court of law, in which case they refer to adhering to the facts of an event, but it is becoming more and more clear (in psychological experiments) that different people observe ‘facts’ differently.

There are those who believe there is a truth about existence itself and that this can be found in the cosmos and the laws of physics, but with the recent discoveries in particle physics it is becoming more and more clear that the observer has a crucial role to play in what is observed to exist.

There are those who believe there is a divine truth that exists on another plane of reality, like a Deity or Cosmic Entity, but it is becoming more and more clear that, since it cannot be assessed by people, each person interprets this according to his already existing beliefs.

There are those who believe that truth is related to logical inference (justification), in which the “truth” of a belief is equated to knowledge, but we know from millennia of human history that what we consider true knowledge at one time is no longer considered true knowledge at a later time.

There are even those who believe that there is a truth to moral rights and wrongs, but we know that moral rights and wrongs change per era and per culture.

And in each and every one of these cases are there those who believe that their truths are objectively recognizable as external facts and that there can only be one truth, so that they assume the right to say that other people are wrong.

Especially academic philosophers are so convinced about their truth being objective – and dependent solely on reasoning and not on perceptions – that they have devised a right way to argue (which is dependent on truth) so they can dismiss every belief that does not follow this form of argument.

Clearly, “truth” is an elusive entity that keeps changing according to who assesses it and  according to the topic of inquiry and it has done so since the very first people started thinking about abstract concepts.

That is because “truth” is a pure constant, an abstract that one perceives and that thus appears as obviously real to the perceiver but not to another person. This abstract is akin to how we experience a “Self” and the impossibility to agree comes from the impossibility of crawling into somebody else’s Self.

My philosophy is therefore based on different selves perceiving differently and not on an external or objective measure of truth, but those who experience an objective pure constant about what is true will not have a choice but to dismiss this explanation.

Midlife Calling?

What does it mean: midlife?

We tend to think of it as the time after the age of forty when we begin to realize that life is not forever. Our children are growing up, our reproductive clock is ticking louder and suddenly we become aware that there are certain things we can no longer do – or are no longer expected to know: “Mum, your idea is old news; everybody who uses the internet knew that already.”

Men may not have the noise of their reproductive clock alarming them but they tend to have other hang-ups, like still being able to perform in bed.

Of course, there is no proof that I am past the halfway point of my life just because I’m in my fifties – if I live to 120, I may still be almost a decade short of my midlife.

On the other hand, my midlife may have come and gone. How would I know?

Some people refer to midlife as the period when a crisis causes them to reassess what is important – the midlife crisis, which usually expresses either mentally or physically: Some of use are suddenly confronted with a medical condition that needs immediate attention; others suddenly find themselves experiencing emotional  problems, such as anxiety and depression.

In reality, it is never either physical or mental but a combination of both.

My own crisis came with high blood pressure. After fifty or so years of never having any medical problems, I was convinced that I was healthy and would forever be so, so I ignored all the symptoms: the scales were wrong and the shortness of breath was just my age. Consequently, it took months of feeling increasingly ill before I actually walked into a doctor’s office.

The doctor was quick to say that some people are simply prone to getting high blood pressure at a certain age and I’d have to take medication for the rest of my life or I could be dead tomorrow.

Of course, it wasn’t my age that caused the high blood pressure; it was the accumulation of twenty or so years of keeping my emotions locked inside. Like so many women who want another child, I had been going between hope and disappointed month after month but kept the desire and the pain inside.

The day after I went to see the doctor and was told it was a blood pressure problem, I woke up suddenly knowing what the answer was: I had to open the taps; I was literally drowning in the emotions that had no way out.

This insight was later confirmed when I read Louise Hay’s book You Can Heal Your Life.

So I ignored the doctor’s threat, sought the help of a homeopath, an aroma-therapist and a reflexologist, and made some changes to my lifestyle. But most of all I shed all the tears that had been bottled up – privately, since I am still an introvert – and now my blood pressure is back to normal.

Some times it takes a crisis to wake up to what is happening under the surface; to understand that the body and the mind are intimately connected and that our beliefs direct what we experience; that “midlife” may be just a social construct we have grown up to expect.

What if midlife is not meant to be a crisis but a calling?

Midlife may have been calling me; it was alerting me to the need to make some changes to my life; to explore new possibilities and maybe to forget old regrets and explore a new future – I am now a hypnotherapist.

We talk about “a calling” when we mean a vocation; something in life you are meant to do because it is a natural drive and you can’t stop it.

Like so many people, I never got to follow my natural talent when I was young. Being a writer was not considered a job that brought food on the table and going to university was only for the rich, the smart and the eccentric. The word “philosophy” did not get used in our house, so it never even occurred to me that I could get a degree studying it, and despite having written stories since I learned how to write and spending the bulk of my teenaged years at home behind a type writer, the idea of getting published had never crossed my mind.

It took until midlife for me to actually seriously try to get the stories that were by then taking over all of my cupboard space published.

So, I am now living my ‘calling’. I am publishing my   philosophical contemplations in fiction and non-fiction and thereby doing what my nature intended me to do. It helped, of course, that I started to understand what this calling was and personality type theory gave me that understanding.

My advice for anybody struggling with a midlife crisis is to stop fighting with the world and learn to respect and enjoy who you are meant to be.

Don’t call it a midlife crisis; turn it into something positive, something constructive. Consider it a message from your inner self that tells you it is time to pay attention; time to make a change to the focus of your life.

You don’t need to wait for a health crisis. Each of us have  our dominant functions that are super developed and direct what our natural talents are, but even those who have been lucky enough to have lived according to their natural talents may choose to change their focus and have a go at those activities that belong to their weaker functions. For Ns that may mean exploring one’s artistic possibilities or try a hand at DIY, music or a new sport. If you don’t have to make a living with it, it can be a wonderful hobby. For Ss, this may be the time to try something a bit more theoretical; start studying something that always interested you.

In general, midlife is a time to reconsider, rekindle and refocus, but most of all to enjoy. After all, you may have another half a century to go.

The Purpose of Art

The Purpose of Art

In In the Real World , Mr Shriver, a high school English teacher poses his class of sixteen years olds the following question: “Why is it, do you think, that all the great literature of the world deals only with a few subjects?” he asks. “What is the subject that is on the mind of most every student in this school, or any other school for that matter? What is on your mind today? Why do you come to school?”

Not surprisingly, the teenagers have their answer ready. “Boyfriends,” one of them jokes.

But then the teacher surprises them. “That’s right,” he says.

He tells his students that natural attractions (and repulsions) between individuals are not a choice people make but driven from within. However, “what people do with them has been the subject of almost all literature and drama in any society”.

Just think about it: What stories, movies, operas, musicals, ballets, theatrical dramas and songs can you think of right now that do not deal with human relationships – especially love relationships? And almost all of them will follow one of two scenarios: The first is when two people act on their mutual attraction despite social or cultural boundaries – they do not conform to the rules of their environment but allow the attraction to rule their actions. They either run away together or have an affair, destroying their existing relationship with their family or partner in the process. “The winner of all tragedies is the lover-and-jealous-spouse relationship that ends in crimes of passion, war, or divorce”.

The runner-up is the other extreme, when the attraction is denied or forbidden – the characters conform to the rules but suffer as a person so much that they end up committing suicide or acts of revenge against those who made the restrictions – their society or family.

Of course, these stories do so well, because these situations are not limited to the fictional realm; they happen in real life all the time, which is why people can relate to them.

There are two other possible scenarios to this natural attraction: the situation where two people without social or cultural limitations fall in love and live happily ever after, and the one where two people who are separated by social or cultural limitations play the attraction game without over-stepping the boundaries. Neither of those make for very interesting fictional dramas.

But real life does not consist of one relationship; every person is at all times involved in multiple relationships and all of those may be played differently. So while the protagonists and their teachers in my book play the game of mutual attraction cautiously, balancing on the edge of what is socially acceptable, other relationships, like that between the kids and their principal, get out of hand. That happens because there are those who naturally conform and expect others to do so, and those that naturally rebel. This is not a choice people make, but a part of their inborn personality.

This divide between personalities in relation to society and culture is extremely prominent in fictional writing. Many other personalities write for different reasons – like some are natural science writers and others focus on human relations, some write action and others contemplations, some are satirists and others deadly serious – but this difference between conformist and non-conformist lies at the basis of every story.

This does not only apply to writers, but also to readers. The example I often use is that of Dangerous Liaisons by Laclos. This book, more than any other, evokes two kinds of (emotional) responses in readers depending on their inborn type: those that are outraged by the amorality of the main characters: Mme de Merteuil and M. Valmont, and those that are equally outraged by the moral preaching of Mme de Volanges and Mme de Tourvel.

So writers express their hurt, their frustrations, their problems and the conflict that exists between the inborn needs of the individual and the rules of the society and depending on their type that makes for different writers.

So what is the purpose of art?

From the moment humans began to live in tribes or societies that allowed them to spend some time away from direct survival skills like foraging for food, there has been creative expression, ranging from decorating items of everyday use to art for art’s sake.

But art has never been solely a pursuit for aesthetic purposes; art is creativity that expresses on the one hand the beliefs and truths of a culture or generation – what one culture considers beautiful, another finds revolting, and parents seldom consider the music of their children acceptable – and on the other hand the frustrations (pain, anger, despair) of the individual – those who feel misunderstood in their own culture.

In other words, there is art that conforms in style and topic to the accepted beliefs of a society, culture or generation and here is ‘rebellious art’ that is intended to draw the attention to a problem, a hurt or an injustice in order for social change to happen.

By using fictional characters, writers can bring problems to the attention of the population and slowly help promote change. For example, had not writers (and filmmakers) started to portray homosexuals as normal people – fictional characters the reader could crawl into the mind of and thus relate to – they would still be treated as mentally ill or social outcasts.

Art is therefore not universal and not unchanging, since it not only records change, but initiates it. Every personality type has its own excellence and style of writing, its own preferred topics and goal. For me, as an INFP, the purpose of art in general, but of writing in particular, is to stop dogma and injustice – to change the society.

Why do you write or read?

Writing for a Positive Future

This is the blog of Nônen Tíi, author of fiction and non-fiction. I will be writing posts in different categories, according to topic and these posts will have a distinctly different tone and person.

1. Conversations with my Muse are posts that relate directly to my fiction books. The topics discussed will be those that deal with the decisions or personalities of the characters and what inpsired me to write the book. In some cases these topics are ethical or political in nature and I will be open to other points of view.

2. Lectures in an Empty Classroom are opinion pieces that have a philosophical or scientific topic. The posts will either express my view or open up a discussion. I hope to get lots of input.

3. Títi Type Support is directly related to my non-fiction books and aims to discuss and advice on personality type related issues, or I may post a tip sheet with advice from the books.

4. Guest Q & A posts. I hope to be able to invite guest writers or experts on other topics so as to share their views.

I aim to post once a week on Friday, New Zealand time. I will be open to comments at any time. For more information about my books, please visit www.nonentiti.com