Does thinking deeply matter? That was my thought while watching a video of the philosopher Frederick Neuhouser at The Stone, a video series with contemporary thinkers "on subjects that matter." Thinking about thinking is favorite subject of mine. I'm sorry about that.
The philosopher David Chalmers' formulation on what it means to be conscious and the gob-smacking fact that we're free to consider alternatives, to hold out possible futures for examination and to act on those choices, thrills me. It thrills me in part because, like great art, it is both meaningful and deeply considered. There is something that it is like to be you and something that it is like to be me. Our first person experiences of the world are utterly and hopelessly unique to us as individuals. Chalmers' so-far insoluble "hard problem of consciousness" is widely referenced now in forums ranging from academic gatherings - of course - to The Big Think to Andrew Sullivan's popular blog.
Neuhouser reflects in the linked video on just how hopeless and unique we are as he grapples with the age-old question of theodicy. Despite every bit of suffering and loss, and referencing Rouseau for the philo nerds out there, Neuhouser finds life and living worth affirming. "There is nothing in the nature of things that says you will not succeed." Stirring, right?
In a curious way, though, I find it satisfying. If you asked about what I've learned most from the years that I've been writing for the IdeaFestival, it would be that life is about this too - all of it, from the deepest horrors to the most generous lives. So "thinking deeply" for me does not result in the affirmation of a series of propositional statements, particularly when those statements have the effect of denying another's humanity or are used to cut off further debate, but in living with the creative tension of a world that can be cruel, yes, and sublime as well. No, I don't know how to reconcile the senseless butchery of a Pol Pot with soaring humanity of Zbigniew Preisner's interpretation of Mozart's Lacrimosa. I never will. But thinking deeply for me means being open to the honest questions and resolving to try again tomorrow.