Self Help

Why Philosophy Works, and The Question You Need To Be Asking…

Me, Metaphor and Mind.

Me, Metaphor and Mind…
What philosophy tells us
about recent findings in the cognitive sciences
and how it makes for an effective self help tool.

How individual empowerment
opens up freedom of choice
and encourages dialogue.

And ultimately what we should do about it.
The question we could all benefit from answering.

I’ve come to realise
that philosophy
is really the ultimate
self-help method.

I’m not going to go into that
not in depth,
other than to say
that many self help methods,
with their promise of answers,
wind up being nothing more than
another distraction,
another framework,
or set up
keeping you in a constant loop
of more and more unnecessary consumption,
stuck on the wheel.

But not philosophy.
Philosophy doesn’t give you answers.
it gives you the power to ask questions.

To ask
Who are we?
What we are?
And Why?
What is the point?

It covers everything,
and whatever you call it,
it can be found everywhere,
with its
different positions,
and conclusions.

And Yes, you can get yourself stuck
in an ideological cul-de-sac,
just like you can in religion, or in science,
if you try hard enough.

But it’s not a requirement.
You needn’t rule out reason
or emotion
or intellect.
Because with philosophy, anything goes.

I say
can change the world.
And here’s why…

I say that to philosophise,
is simply
to be who you are,

But to do that you must question everything…

And when you do that,
when you take up that challenge
you become strong.
And when you are strong,
things happen.
You make them happen.

No one else can!
accepting the call might be the most important
you can ever do.

And this is not about
finding the right guru,
and being led
step by step into the light.
This is about embracing a process,
a conversation
or dialogue maybe,
that allows you to take on new ideas,
to test and to challenge old ones,
And to make choices… and to be wrong,
and to make changes.

All from a position of strength.
Here’s something that excited me.

Science, these days…
can make pictures
of the inside of our heads,
in real time…
We can see what our brains are doing
in there.

And what we see
are networks of meaning,
different areas
all linked up and
all firing up
as we talk,
and we see,
and we feel,
and we do.

To run,
for example,
in your mind.
If we watch someone think about running.
We see a network of linked up areas… getting hot!

And we see the same thing when we’re actually running,
and when we talk about running,
and even when we watch someone else running…
The words and the actions and the sensory systems all fire together, they are the same thing!

That’s the science.

And what philosophy
can tell us about this is that
we are creating a map of reality within our heads,
as individuals,
encoding it
in a wrapper
or a filter of metaphor.

And ultimately
we are not equipped
to process the whole of reality,
as it happens, in real time.
Our minds are too slow, wet, and messy…

But, we can begin
to understand that
is fundamental to our being.

We could not conceive
of reality without it.

are two metaphors we could use
to talk about life.
How about we say.
“it is an orange…”
for example,
“life is an orange…”

Now, whatever you might personally think about an orange,
however you might have mapped that external phenomenon,
that you and I might be able to come to some form of existential consensus about
I’m willing to bet that as a metaphor for life it isn’t doing too well.

But we could say “life is a journey”.
with travel, movement,
and discovery,
danger and jeopardy.
Come aboard…
Now, that does compute.

Here’s a personal favourite.
Metaphor three,
“life is a river”.
A cool, and powerful, flowing stream of water.

And here we can really get going…

The river
is in constant flux.
It’s unstoppable.
To hold it back
is to tempt
overwhelming catastrophe –
a broken dam.

We know,
there will be waterfalls,
and rapids,
sharps rocks, and steep banks.
There will be peril,

But yes, of course,
there will also be
overhanging branches,
to reach out for,
fallen trees to cling onto,
and calm pools
for rest.

To go with it,
to flow with the river,
is to be carried,
towards freedom,
towards new beginnings.

To be carried downstream
where the steep banks open out,
and the waters slow,
where ultimately
we reach the ocean,
is to reach a land of untold riches, and reward.

This is a deeply held metaphor.
Yes we can express all of life’s richness within it.

We are sharing common experience,
my brain and yours firing in unison,
understanding life…

But make no mistake, it is not real.
This idea that life is a river.

life is life,
a river is a river…

And now bear in mind
that how we behave,
is inextricably
bound up in those metaphors,
in the same packages of chemical messages.
We behave accordingly.

I like to think that our answers
become our behaviours…
and how deep you go is a personal decision.
to unpack this idea,
that behaviour is an expression of our belief systems…
maybe time for a bit more science.

Let’s say
Stuff happens…
that is
our minds receive an input –

Our minds want us to react.
This is after all why they are here.

Our minds have previously,
and they are
and selecting
and processing these inputs,
into fundamental neural networks,
or cognitive linguistic frameworks.
Into metaphors,
for just such an occasion.

And the mind will treat this new input just the same.

But first and foremost
there’s no time for that,
real time processing
and reacting stuff.
Mind knows to ask
a different question…
and to get an answer quick.

Its evolution that we have to thank for this.
This could after all,
quite easily
be a life threatening moment…
how can we know otherwise?

Mind asks
Should I run from this?
Is this a threat?
What’s happening?

And it has to be this way
to ensure survival…

Determine the risk first.
Only then ask
Can I eat it? or
Mate with it? or
Should I need to protect this?
What does this new piece of information mean to me?

And to reach a decision
our minds commission a process
that will find
the closest metaphors they have,
the best fitting description
of a situation that they already recognise,
already have stored away
to match the input they are receiving.

And to do so they request more input
to confirm the situation.
This is the very root of confirmation bias
our minds directing us to see what we want to see,
or to hear or to feel
at a purely subconscious level,
in order to fit the jigsaw.

That smell is new.
for example.
That smell is good,
I smell food.
My left cheek feels cool.
breeze, scent
There’s a bakery.
I will eat.
There’s the door.

Here, it’s simple enough,
the smell of bread,
the feeling of hunger
and walking to the door.
But so too is this an explanation of
how all behaviour is built,
a process of building layer upon layer
of meaning
and understanding,
layer upon layer of metaphor…
over eons of evolutionary survival training.

We see an unconscious process
of chemical feedback loops
underpinned by a metaphorical value system,
of logic and emotion,
evolution and socialisation,
all just outputting simple behaviours
for the process of living itself.

And hence perhaps,
the emotional appeal
of the metaphor of life,
as a journey, life as a river,
and the intimate connection for us
of life in terms of water.
And the myriad reflected faces we see in that water.
The myriad life experiences we describe with that metaphor.

To return to that,
to continue the point here,
let’s step back,
just briefly,
from the river bank,
away from the torrent
with its depths
and shallows
and currents
and take to a cliff top,
high above,
where the gorse clings
to bleached yellow sandstone,
and where looking down
through a canopy of trees,
we can hear a deep rumbling,
and we feel a chill breeze on our faces,
and we see the mud rich waters
churning far below…

From here,
this new vantage point
we can see the river anew
we can acknowledge perhaps
that wherever we choose to observe this same river from,
it will do its own thing..

It continues to go on with its thing
wherever we see it from,
and whilst we might get different views of it,
and be minded to make different descriptions of it
we will never see it all…
and we never will.

We experience only our own unique perspective.
The trick is to recognise that
truth must be somewhere else.

And as with life…
So with philosophy.

Plato, Spinoza,
Lao Tzu, Nietzsche,
Buddha, Christ, Zoroaster.
You name it!

Philosophers throughout the ages
have pointed one by one,
to each and every one of us
to say
This is up to you,
It is you who has the ability to make a difference
to be who you are,
and to be responsible for yourself.

Each in their own way has laid down their challenge to you…

It is only you who can do this.
It is only you who may know that your experience
of that same river,
will depend
on what we choose
for ourselves.
On where we choose to stand.

We are ultimately free.

One question
for me,
And that is
how we might decide
what we might do with that freedom.
And I am aware
that some people
might want to turn away as soon as hear
the word philosophy,
whilst others might reject the accuracy of metaphor.
And I’m aware that some might for now prefer other ways
of marking time…
and find emotional appeal in stuff
other than saving the world…

Each to their very own, I guess
But the point is,
that whatever you may want to call this love of knowledge,
this process of discovery.
This quest to take responsibility for your own path,
seems to me the largest part and parcel
of leading a full and productive life.

So I have a question for you.
And its not a rhetorical question.

Of course the key to answering it
is to understand that there is no right answer,
that it is the beginning of the discussion rather than the end and
that without any hint of irony this is precisely the answer that
the planet and your children need to hear.

Suppose you wake up tomorrow morning and you are in charge
“What Is The First Thing You Would Do?”