Saturday, January 13, 2007

Thinking of Spinoza...

IMG_0254, originally uploaded by cameronduff.

So after the library Louise took us to a local gallery (the Frye) which has quite a reputation for exhibiting contemporary conceptual artists. And they don't come much more conceptual than the Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza. Sadly this "prince of philosophers" as Gilles Deleuze called him, died young during Holland's great "Golden Age". As the arts, philosophy and science were flourishing under the remarkably liberal governace of the de Witt brothers and the House of Orange (google it - it's a great story in its own right!), Spinoza was quietly setting about composing the greatest philosophy of joy and the ethical life that we have in the western tradition. Spinoza's is a philosophy of liberation from life's sorrows and a celebration of the joys of the "examined life" as Aristotle called it. Remarkably, Spinoza wrote his great works in virtual isolation, alone in a quiet flat, under constant threat of persecution from both the Catholic church (he thoroughly rejected the notion of an interventionist god, of our own image and responsive to our prayers) and his own Jewish community. He was excommunicated as a young man from the Jewish faith for criticising the Jewish god, and in fact narrowly escaped with his own life after being stabbed in a particularly heated debate in the synagogue. His greatest work the Ethics was published after his death and only after that bastard Liebniz stole most of his grand ideas.

Anyway, this long peramble is by way of introduction to the above "one minute sculpture" entitled "Thinking of Spinoza". Spinoza whom I've been reading alot of over these last 18 months has become my favourite philosopher. The man laid out a complicated philosophy - an ethics really - of the good life. One grounded in interaction rather that social retreat which is the more common aristotelian approach. Read him, in an age of Dr Phil pop psychology Spinoza stands as a beacon of hope.

So this photo is me "realizing" the aforementioned one minute sculpture whilst thinking of Spinoza. I was thinking life affirming thoughts if that doesn't sound too wanky though I suspect I've long since been convicted of that particular transgression!!

One last plug, the celebrated American neuroscientist Antonio Damasio last year published a fascinating work on Spinoza's philosophy of affect and the feeling brain. Basically, Damasio has long drawn on Spinoza's philosophy in his own scientific research as a means of developing more sophisticated hypotheses to explain the working of the brian. Damasio's research using advanced brian scanning technologies is starting to indicate that Spinoza's understanding of the brain was pretty spot on some four centuries ago! So Descartes be damned! Spinoza was right all along to reject any mind/body dualism. Read Damasio's book too. His theory of the brain "enmeshed" in the feeling body and then responsive to external stimuli in our environment is fascinating and surprisingly easy to read.

So I'm still thinking about Spinoza! It's a lot to weigh up...


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