The Side View

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Work continues apace on the podcast, essay, and book series I’m working on launching this fall. I’ve been documenting progress on The Side View on Twitter @KnowledgEcology and @TheSideViewCo.

We have essays and podcasts lined up on Dōgen, Jaspers, and Nietzsche; applied complexity science in aesthetics and architecture; Vipassana, self inquiry, and embodiment; phenomenology, contemplative practice, and ethics; affordances, cognition, and behavior; psychedelics and philosophy of mind; and more.

If these topics or the description above sound interesting to you, consider submitting an idea for the site by writing me at adam (at) thesideview.co and we can discuss and explore the details.

Feel free to download and share a pdf of the above flyer here.

The Side View

The Side View is about the knowledge and intuition we use to navigate the world. It’s about how we come to be skillful perceivers and doers, people who know, in the moment, the right details to attend to and the right responsive action to take. In this sense, The Side View is about how the mind meets the world. But it’s also about how the mind, when properly trained, modifies the possibilities of the world it comes to perceive.

Consider the variety of ways the world can appear to different people. The details we notice and find important vary based on our skills, beliefs, and expectations. We participate in making the world available to perception. So what, then, does the world of the expert look like? How, for example, does the architect see space? How does the artist see color and shape? How does the meditator see inner states? How does the athlete see movement?

These and more are the questions The Side View explores. The central idea is that perception of whatever kind is never given without effort. Perception on this view is rather a hard-won achievement, a result of diligent exercise aimed towards a goal; it is itself a kind of practice, a work of attention trained up through effort and repetition. From this perspective, the expert lives in a different world of possibility, operating with a level of detail and discernment gained only through years of training.

Take the architect as an example. What do they see when they look at space? What guides their decisions as they design and transform our built world? The architect sees with an eye for design that the rest of us do not have, with a capacity for understanding how we might shape the environment and how the environment might shape us. The same can be said of the painter, the contemplative, the psychologist, the carpenter, and the athlete—all have heightened levels of perceptual ability, unique capacities for sense-making cultivated through practice, experience, and learning.

To explore these ideas, The Side View draws from anthropology, philosophy, science, meditation, athletics, art, and more to discover how people understand, and then transform, their worlds. It connects these disciplines through the idea of practice, emphasizing the skills that lead people to become masters of their art in the first place. The ancient Greeks used the word askēsis, meaning exercise or training, to describe this process of personal and collective transformation. The Side View uses this concept to explore the experience and training required to produce great thinkers, creators, and doers in any craft.

 

Practice Sessions

tumblr_nz5hwuNuto1r9943oo1_1280I’m just about ready to wrap up work on one phase of my dissertation project, and as I get ready to move on to the next section of the manuscript, I thought now would be a good time to collect some of the pieces I’ve put together over the past several months and put them all in one place. Below are links to a few of my recent essays, articles, and presentations that cover everything from Pierre Hadot and Peter Sloterdijk to extended cognition and media ecology and more.

“The Side View: Hadot and Sloterdijk on the Practice of Philosophy.” Published in Cosmos and History, Vol 13, No. 1Article available here.

“Media Ecology, Practice, and Philosophy.” Audio presentation available here.

“Media Ecology and Bios Theoretikos: Philosophy as Extended Cognition.” Article published in Explorations in Media Ecology, Vol 17, No. 2. Article available here (or as a pdf download here).

“Philosophical Inquiry as Spiritual Exercise.” Audio presentation available here.

“Pierre Hadot on Philosophy as a Way of Life.” Paper available online here (or as a pdf download here).

New Article Out in Explorations in Media Ecology

The March 2018 issue of Explorations in Media Ecology is now available online here. You can view the abstract for my article “Media Ecology and Bios Theoretikos: Philosophy as Extended Cognition” here, but unfortunately the full article is behind a paywall. You can email me at arobbert84@gmail.com if you’re interested in reading the full essay but don’t have access to a university or library computer. The description is below.

In this article, I take a media ecology perspective on philosophy. This approach supports the German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk’s claim that first philosophy is not metaphysics, aesthetics, ethics or epistemology but rather practice (askēsis). Sloterdijk’s practice-centred view of philosophy is shared by Pierre Hadot and Michael McGhee, both of whom give askēsis a central role in philosophy. I draw on the work of these philosophers to show that philosophy is best conceived as an act of extended cognition performed amidst different media ecologies. To make this point, I start not with humans and our practices, but with spiders and theirs. When philosophy is seen as an instance of extended cognition, I argue, one can draw parallels between our practices and those of non-human species, who like us build artefacts to deepen their perception and understanding of their environments. To this end, I explore the settings that enable philosophical training. Philosophy on this view is facilitated by an ecology of affordance spaces – academies, libraries, monasteries and more – whose design helps the philosopher perform certain manoeuvres in thought, manoeuvres that make apparent the conditions required for the Bios Theoretikos (the life of contemplation).

On Pierre Hadot – A Draft Much too Long for a Blog Post

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Pierre Hadot (1922–2010) was a French philosopher and historian of ancient philosophy, especially of Plato, Aristotle, Stoicism, Cynicism, Epicureanism, and Neoplatonism. He was a professor at the Collège de France in Paris where he also wrote and taught on a number of philosophers, including Marcus Aurelius, Plotinus, Descartes, Kant, Kierkegaard, Wittgenstein, and Merleau-Ponty, to name a few. In this essay, I draw from several of his translated works, including What is Ancient Philosophy? the collection of essays found in Philosophy as a Way of Life, his work Plotinus or the Simplicity of Vision, and his text on Marcus Aurelius, The Inner Citadel. The essay serves as an overview and introduction to the thought of Pierre Hadot. However, what follows is not a reconstruction of any particular school of philosophy. Nor does the essay offer a linear reconstruction of the history of these philosophies.

Instead, in this essay I recreate the sense of what Hadot found so crucial to philosophy. Namely, the idea that philosophy is a way of life, a set of practices spiritual in nature. Philosophy for Hadot is a means of integrating questions of ethics, knowledge, being, and aesthetics into the actions and choices of the person. All of these concerns, Hadot often underscores, are developed for the sake of creating an ability to care for ourselves and one another, for developing a more comprehensive understanding of human beings and the world, and for maintaining a political obligation to a community. The assumption I make is that Hadot not only writes about the history of ancient philosophy, but also gives his readers his own approach to philosophical practice through the historical account he offers. Continue reading

Philosophical Inquiry as Spiritual Exercise Audio + Notes

Here’s the audio and the notes for my part of yesterday’s panel on philosophical inquiry as spiritual exercise (also available as a pdf here). All in all, I’d say it was a great session with lots of good discussion, my demeanor in the below photo notwithstanding. Many of these themes are central to my first comprehensive exam, and my dissertation research in general, so there’ll be more to come along these lines in the next few months.

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Pierre Hadot on Philosophy as a Way of Life

– Pierre Hadot (1922–2010) was a French philosopher and historian of ancient philosophy, especially of Plato and Aristotle and Stoicism, Cynicism, Epicureanism, and Neoplatonism. He was a professor at the Collège de France in Paris where he also wrote and taught on Marcus Aurelius, Plotinus, Descartes, Kant, Wittgenstein, Merleau-Ponty, and others. I’m drawing from two of his translated works, What is Ancient Philosophy? and the collection of essays found in Philosophy as a Way of Life. The central question in both these texts is largely the same. 

– What does it mean that philosophy is a way of life? For Hadot the answer is simple. Philosophy, when done right, involves our whole being. It means paying attention to our theoretical and intellectual beliefs, but it also means attending to our values, feelings, and practices. It requires that we pay attention to ourselves and develop a concern for those around us, for the other people in our lives and communities. It’s a whole form of life.

– Philosophy for Hadot is an existential choice in our mode of living. It’s a choice of life but also a way of making a life. In this sense, philosophy is a kind of a self-making that issues from our choice of practice. This is why Hadot argues that philosophical discourse must be understood from the perspective of the way of life of which it is both the expression and the means. Both the expression and the means, both theory and practice conjoined: This is the key to entering Hadot’s reading of philosophy, and perhaps to entering the philosophical life for one’s own self. Continue reading