Life as an Extreme Sport

Through Water’s Thickness [August 15]

“Any moral dispute is already situated in the needs of the people.”

My notes for Glenn’s lecture are all over the place, quite literally. I’ve got several pages nearly sheer purple for the effort to squeeze every thought, both his and my own, down. I’m not entirely certain how coherent I’m going to be able to make this… We’re talking pragmatism and constructivism today, and the differences between the two. I think Glenn wanted to get much further into what pragmatism is, but we keep being held up by the LIM students and their unfamiliarity with most philosophical terms.

Anyhow, pragmatism! From Hegel and company, names I never thought I’d be happy to encounter! Still, it’s home, even if it’s a home I never particularly wanted to have, and thus, comfort. So if I’m understanding Glenn correctly, he’s saying that the arguments around constructivism, especially when misreading Nussbaum’s misreading of Hellenistic experiential relationships, are formed around pragmatic means. Which, of course, leads back to money, which is what our NICU attending was focusing on during the visit yesterday.

Constructivism is a way of talking about the realities we construct to function, regardless of the Lacanian notion of The Real. You have the populist, which is the expansion of psychiatric disease, often referred to as the Worried Well, but also the broader idea that this, the medicalization of society, is okay. We then have the rich and contextual model, which is comprised of three models we didn’t really have a chance to discuss, as the class got itself thoroughly stuck on the populist model of care, and trying to – well, I’m really not sure what they were trying to do. We again come back to LIM students not, it seems, having the necessary background to understand the philosophical concepts being discussed, and holding up the class because they want to argue something that is an established field of concept (I don’t think a class on pragmatism, for example, is necessarily the place to argue the validity of either pragmatisim or constructivism.) These three models, however, function to produce health in relation to the experience of the ill, to look at whether or not the issue is medical, and the expansion of health and disease as a product of the recognition that our technology (tools) can save human suffering. (Of course, you must commit to the first two premises of the rich and contextual model for this to be true.) I wonder how we construct (heh) a proper form of this?

It occurs to me at this point that Nussbaum is not taking on Descartes, but is instead agreeing to a ghost in the machine conception of mind and body – mind deciding about body, rather than mind and body working holistically.

So, we eventually get off the populist model and quickly through the rich and contextual constructivist point of view, which allows up to wind up wth Zaher’s pragmatic ven-diagram of being, which moves away from a constructivist view to a more social model. The thing that interests me is that I think Glenn is using a very wrong, or at least very limited, model here. The ven-diagram, as was so exceedingly highlighted by the multiple questions and comments the class had about it, is confusing and, in my mind, limited. If Glenn really is trying to root phenomenologists and pragmatists together via a misreading of Nussbaum, why not go the distance and move to a pure autopoietic system? It is Merleau-Ponty’s tree,


When through the water’s thickness I see the tiling at the bottom of a pool, I do not see is despite the water and the reflections there, I see it through them and because of them. If there were no distortions, no ripples of sunlight, if it were without this flesh that I saw the geometry of the tiles, then I would cease to see it as it is and where it is – which is to say, beyond any identical, specific place. I cannot say that the water itself – the aqeous power, the syrupy and shimmering element – is in space; all this is not somewhere else, either, but it is not in the pool. It inhabits it, it materializes itself there, yet it is not contained there; and if I raise my eyes toward the screen of cypresses where the web of reflections is playing, I cannot gainsay the fact that the water visits it, too, or at least sends into it, upon it, its active and living essence.

That is to say, it is only because of the water we see both reflection of the tree and the tile below. Without that water, we would see tile, but not tree. (Windows are another great example: we must have the window to see the tree outside.) What is this to say, then, in relation to Zaher’s ven-diagram? Simply that Glenn, via Zaher, was trying to illustrate the connectivity that exists between us all – this same connectivity that Merleau-Ponty is speaking of, and more neatly can be wrapped into an autopoietic system, a system that continually creates itself. Nesting Russian dolls, we live within systems upon systems.

If we see the ven-diagram like this, an onion-like, layers upon layers of consideration:
(graphic missing because I’m lazy)

We can see an autopoietic system to look more like this, circles within circles:
(graphic missing because I’m too damned lazy)

Circular systems with systems inside, each potentially touching the other systems they’re with, as well as those outside them. It’s the classic functional model of a cell, as described by and expanded to social cultural models, by Maturana and Varela.

Anyhow, I’ve probably gone on further tangent than I should even consider, given that we’re not in philosophy, we’re in bioethics. But I’m certainly going to need to sit down with Glenn and talk about this stuff, not to mention argue the difference between autonomy and autonomous! Should be fun.