In the Shadow of Hegel: How Does Thought Arise Out of Matter?
Megan Erickson is an Associate Editor at Big Think. Prior to Big Think, she taught reading and writing to ninth and tenth graders in NYC public schools and tutored students of all ages at the Stuyvesant Writing Center, which she helped launch. In her spare time, she worked in the communications department at the Center for Constitutional Rights and served as a mentor at the Urban Assembly, where she designed and led an extracurricular civics course on grassroots community action. She’s written on education, small business, and the arts for CNNMoney, Fortune Small Business, and The Huffington Post. Megan received her master’s degree in Education from Teachers College. You can reach her at email@example.com.
What's the Big Idea?
Before neuroscience and quantum physics, there was Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. The 19th century German idealist revolutionized Western thought, and every great thinker since has been working in his shadow, says Slavoj Žižek, the Slovenian philosopher and cultural critic.
Watch the video interview:
Often seen as a precursor to Marxists and existentialists, Hegel believed that knowledge is not static, but dynamic. In the Hegelian framework, history is a process in which many paradoxes interact and are then synthesized into a unified whole. Reality is mind, and the universe is spirit objectified. It's one analysis of existence and being.
But what does it mean in a world where cognitive scientists can see brain function on an fMRI scan, capture the visual data, and reassemble it into videos using quantitative modeling? Now that physicists have the god-like power to accelerate tiny particles of matter and throw them at each other just to see what happens, is metaphysical philosophy dead?
What's the Significance?
Reductionists like Stephen Hawking may give the impression that contemporary science is uniquely capable of answering the big questions, like Does the world have an end? or Where does thought come from? but that's not the case, says Žižek. Our deep empirical understanding of the material world hasn't displaced the study of philosophy. It's made it more relevant.
Which is why he's calling for the rehabilitation of classical philosophy: for contemporary philosophers to engage with the work of scientists and vice versa. "What is happening, for example, in quantum physics, in the last 100 of years, these things which are so daring, incredible, that we cannot include into our conscious view of reality -- Hegel's philosophy, with all it’s dialectical paradoxes, can be of some help."
What does philosophy teach us that empirical science does not? The things we know without knowing it, says Žižek, the silent presuppositions that constantly shape and inform our perception. It's important to be able to observe our surroundings and act on them, but we also need to understand what we're seeing and why we're seeing it. "The danger today is precisely a kind of a bland, pragmatic activism. You know, like when people tell you, oh my God, children in Africa are starving and you have time for your stupid philosophical debates. Let’s do something. I always hear in this call there are people starving. I always discern in this a more ominous injunction. Do it and don't think too much. Today, we need thinking."
Big Think's May 2012 Book of the Month is Less Than Nothing: Hegel and the Shadow of Dialectical Materialism, by Slavoj Žižek. For more information, check out our post on the book here.
Video edited and produced by Jonathan Fowler and Elizabeth Rodd. Interview conducted by Megan Erickson. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.
A guide to making difficult conversations possible—and peaceful—in an increasingly polarized nation.
- How can we reach out to people on the other side of the divide? Get to know the other person as a human being before you get to know them as a set of tribal political beliefs, says Sarah Ruger. Don't launch straight into the difficult topics—connect on a more basic level first.
- To bond, use icebreakers backed by neuroscience and psychology: Share a meal, watch some comedy, see awe-inspiring art, go on a tough hike together—sharing tribulation helps break down some of the mental barriers we have between us. Then, get down to talking, putting your humanity before your ideology.
- The Charles Koch Foundation is committed to understanding what drives intolerance and the best ways to cure it. The foundation supports interdisciplinary research to overcome intolerance, new models for peaceful interactions, and experiments that can heal fractured communities. For more information, visit charleskochfoundation.org/courageous-collaborations.
Progressive America would be half as big, but twice as populated as its conservative twin.
- America's two political tribes have consolidated into 'red' and 'blue' nations, with seemingly irreconcilable differences.
- Perhaps the best way to stop the infighting is to go for a divorce and give the two nations a country each
- Based on the UN's partition plan for Israel/Palestine, this proposal provides territorial contiguity and sea access to both 'red' and 'blue' America
A federal judge ruled that the Trump administration likely violated the reporter's Fifth Amendment rights when it stripped his press credentials earlier this month.
- Acosta will be allowed to return to the White House on Friday.
- The judge described the ruling as narrow, and didn't rule one way or the other on violations of the First Amendment.
- The case is still open, and the administration may choose to appeal the ruling.
SMARTER FASTER trademarks owned by The Big Think, Inc. All rights reserved.