• schopenhauer1
    2.7k
    So many of us have probably had this before. You are doing some menial task for an employer. You start asking, "Besides not getting fired or hassled so I can get a paycheck, why the hell am I doing this shit?!". This is a statement stemming from the ability to be self-aware. In other words, we can reflect on our own actions while we are doing those actions.

    Most other animals presumably just "do" without the ability to self-reflect on their own actions. Having this self-awareness causes a conundrum. We know we don't like the task we are doing, it provides no flow, it provides no satisfaction, it is simply something we do for some abstract future fear (i.e. not losing job). Other animals are at an advantage in a way. They don't have that ability to know they don't like what it is they are doing. I can't see a bird questioning why it has to always find food, let's say and experiencing ennui (however cool that would be to imagine).

    So if humans can constantly self-reflect on their own daily primary tasks, how do we trick our brains into overcoming doing the daily grind of unwanted and unsatisfactory tasks? Some possibilities I can think of:

    • Enculturation into habits of turning off self-reflection. Repeated actions of turning away from meta-analysis through extreme focus and concentration over and over may allow for extinction of meta-analysis on a perpetual basis to become in a way, more animal-like (just do, don't reflect!).
    • Self-deception. This is harder to prove but, trying to change attitude towards work through believing (despite one's initial beliefs) that the work is interesting, keeping all other thoughts out.
    • Reward. Doing something menial is often seen as remediated as long as pay is seen as enough to compensate for time. This takes a certain type that doesn't need internal experiences to align with one's own preferences for future rewards.

    There's others too, and they are all sort of intertwined, but the point here is that self-awareness makes the process of living quite different from other animals. Someone cannot just say "just work damnit!" and people get in line. People have thoughts, reflections, desires, etc. that often conflict with the immediate work at hand. With all the work people are given, there is a lot of habit formations, self-deceptions, and other strategies to not self-reflect too much into not wanting to do the undesirable work. My main point is how we as a species can self-reflect and get anything undesirable done.

    Simply the reward of future money can't be enough either. You have to buy into the belief that money is the reason you do something you normally would not want to.

    @Bitter Crank, @Baden, @csalisbury, what do you think?
  • Sir2u
    1.7k
    Simply the reward of future money can't be enough either. You have to buy into the belief that money is the reason you do something you normally would not want to.schopenhauer1

    Did you try asking people why they worked before asking this question?
    I know of only one person that would do his job without being paid, but only when he had enough money in the bank and had no expenses to pay to be able to continue. Me, I love my job even though I get pissed of with the idiots I am expected to teach.

    And that is the solution to the grind most people suffer from, get a job you love.
  • schopenhauer1
    2.7k
    Did you try asking people why they worked before asking this question?Sir2u

    Well the question was generally how as self-reflective creatures we can still do something we didn't like while we were doing it. I thought it an interesting phenomenon. Compare this with other animals. A bird cannot reflect on how much he is tired of gathering seeds and berries. A human can, but still trudges on. That touches on existential issues of freedom. Even the simple answer, "because I get money" is loaded with how we buy into certain socialized norms. It is not a given- If offered money, then work. It is something we have bought into as a scheme (for lack of better word) for motivation.
  • Joshs
    645
    i don't buy the notion that reflection is a separate process from doing.
    To reflect on something is itself a kind of further doing, a continued modification of one's relationship to that one is involved in. One should be careful in making sharp dichotomous distinctions between what humans can supposedly do that other animals cant. Most of those distinctions have had to be abandoned (tool use, culture, language, cognition, feeling, empathy, etc). Animals display ambivalence and modulations in their attitude toward an object of concern just as humans do. Its simply a matter of degree. What we have that other animals dont to the same degree is a kind of sustained memory for abstract examination and comparison. In most cases this capacity is what allows us to escape from the kind of terror and rage that other animals succumb to as a a result of the inability to undergo sustained conceptual attention. For every example of human misery caused by reflection there are many more of escape from misery due to the ability to clarify situations. It comes down to whether you think ignorance is bliss.
    Would you really rather relive your childhood than have the reflective capacities of an adult? My guess is most are happier overall as adults than they were as children, despite the intensity of joy and simple pleasure that seems to be uniquely associated with childhood.
  • schopenhauer1
    2.7k

    I think you missed the point of the question. It is about how it is we buy into doing something we don't like doing. I know it sounds "simple", but it is actually quite complex as I see it. We "know" what we are doing is something we don't like and we are self-aware of it. However, we create stories, deceptions, or habits of mind that get us to overcome doing unsatisfactory tasks. Self-awareness brings us knowledge of dissatisfaction of the primary task at hand, but yet we find ways to overcome this.
  • Sir2u
    1.7k
    A bird cannot reflect on how much he is tired of gathering seeds and berries.schopenhauer1

    While I cannot prove this to be false, there is not much information about it being true either. The truth is we don't know whether they are capable of reflecting upon their own lives. Have you seen the black birds that figure out how to solve problems so that they can get food. They are very inventive and appear to contemplate problems and use trial and error to solve them. Is it possible that they prefer to solve problems over just finding food out of boredom or dissatisfaction with their usual job?

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BGPGknpq3e0

    A human can, but still trudges on.schopenhauer1

    Not all humans do, many seek to better their lot in life. Some just give up. It is a question of opportunities being present or not. How many people of low income have a chance to make their lives better? Not many, and some don't even notice that there are occasionally opportunities for them. So they tell themselves that things could be worse and that they are happy for what they have. That is human nature as any psychologist will tell you, no one wants to suffer so we create defenses against it.

    But from another point of view, just how many truly satisfying jobs are there? Would it be even possible for everyone to be able to do the job that made them happiest?
  • Joshs
    645
    When we abandon the idea of thinking of the goodness or badness of a task as a thing, a concept hermetically sealed unto itself, then we can also abandon the idea of reflection as something secondary, peripheral ,or parasitic to the originating 'Concept' ( the value for us of a task). The reason we can continue to do something we dont like is that liking or not liking is an ongoing assessment that is always changing relative to itself. The very meaning of the task therefore is changing via our ongoing changing assessment of it. It always means something slightly different as we reflect back on it . We don't need to manipulate or trick ourselves into thinking of it as something other than what it is, because it isnt simply a single static concept in the first place. One minute we can decide that we cant do this job because it is so distasteful. The next minute we can change our mind because maybe its not so bad. The next minute we can think that yes it is so bad but we need the money so that makes it tolerable. These arent just mental tricks. They go directly to the core of the changing meaning of the badness or goodness of the job. Badness or goodness is never one simple thing, it is relative to a whole host of contextual considerations. We're not lying to or tricking ourselves when reflectiion reveals to us new considerations.
  • schopenhauer1
    2.7k
    While I cannot prove this to be false, there is not much information about it being true either. The truth is we don't know whether they are capable of reflecting upon their own lives. Have you seen the black birds that figure out how to solve problems so that they can get food. They are very inventive and appear to contemplate problems and use trial and error to solve them. Is it possible that they prefer to solve problems over just finding food out of boredom or dissatisfaction with their usual job?Sir2u

    I don't think a bird feels the ennui of a boring day, despite their abilities for problem solving which I agree are very impressive, but makes sense in the context of their survival niche.

    So they tell themselves that things could be worse and that they are happy for what they have.Sir2u

    Right! There are stories, deceptions, and habits of mind. Again, it intrigues me that self-aware animals such as ourselves can overcome our own self-reflection on doing unsatisfactory tasks. Sartre wrote about authenticity and freedom. Are people giving up their authenticity by buying into a narrative that overrides their dislike for the work at hand? I'm not discounting the fact that it may even be necessary to knowingly trick ourselves into buying into the narrative that the work is necessary.

    But from another point of view, just how many truly satisfying jobs are there? Would it be even possible for everyone to be able to do the job that made them happiest?Sir2u

    A very good point. Again, we are self-aware of these unhappy jobs, but we can make ourselves do it despite this. What a delightfully tragic wacky way to survive- self-awareness of our own dissatisfaction and the overcoming by buying into a narrative or deception.
  • schopenhauer1
    2.7k
    We don't need to manipulate or trick ourselves into thinking of it as something other than what it is,Joshs

    To do something in the first place (if we don't like it?). I don't think so. Give me a scenario where we start doing something we don't like WITHOUT a narrative or deception to ourselves?

    One minute we can decide that we cant do this job because it is so distasteful. The next minute we can change our mind because maybe its not so bad. The next minute we can think that yes it is so bad but we need the money so that makes it tolerable. These arent just mental tricks. They go directly to the core of the changing meaning of the badness or goodness of the job. Badness or goodness is never one simple thing, it is relative to a whole host of contextual considerations. We're not lying to or tricking ourselves when reflectiion reveals to us new considerations.Joshs

    While I agree with you that our self-reflective evaluations change over time on a particular task, the question at hand is how it is we keep doing distasteful tasks. I propose that it is narratives, deceptions, and habits of mind that we buy into. I haven't heard a counter to this. To the contrary, your examples were simply examples of these little narratives, deceptions, and habits of mind we buy into.
  • Sir2u
    1.7k
    Are people giving up their authenticity by buying into a narrative that overrides their dislike for the work at hand?schopenhauer1

    How many do you think are actually aware that they are doing it?
  • schopenhauer1
    2.7k
    How many do you think are actually aware that they are doing it?Sir2u

    Perhaps some people don't self-reflect that much. I guess this is for the people who know they don't like doing the work they are doing. I refuse to believe some people don't reflect on whether they like the work they are doing. They may not communicate it perhaps. Or they are buying into a narrative, deception, or habit of mind. But that is my exact premise.
  • Joshs
    645
    The answer to your question 'how do we keep doing distasteful tasks' is presupposed in the question. We keep doing distasteful task because they arent so distasteful that we can no longer tolerate doing them. We can create a multidimensional spectrum of attitudes toward a job, from absolutely intolerable to blissful. Your question concerns a certain middle range of ambivalence, where we may go back and forth between being tempted to quit, and where not only our decision whether to keep working, but HOW we work, is affected by our assessment of the job. We could work more slowly , take more breaks, find distractions. Then what we are doing is changing the nature of the job itself and thats our solution, and that of course is not a narrative, habit or deception.

    If the real gist of your question is 'What techniques can people suggest to help one get through an unpleasant situation'?, then self-distraction and deception are certainly among those techniques. More effective, but more difficult, is to find a way to make the job more meaningful , and that involves more than a deception or habit. You could call it a narrative, but it has to be true in some sense. Try reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Another technique could work if there arent too many distractions on the job. If its something that allows one the quiet to daydream one could train oneself to create in one's head(a story, an idea, poetry, building something). Using one;s imagination this way makes the time go much faster. Many find that immersing oneself aggressively into the work also makes the time go faster than trying to do less. Boredom can be the worst aspect of a job.

    So immersion may be the key. Either immersion in one's own substantive imagination, immersion in the job, or even immersion in a zen-like state of nothingness where one performs in an altered state.
    Some of these are habits, some are deceptions, but the most effective are also the most difficult, involving real use of creativity to transport oneself either more deeply into the work or deeply into another realm while working at the same time(kind of like how one can drive while not remembering driving.because one is immersed in an interesting podcast). Notice how the first day of work after a vacation often doesnt seem as bad because your head is still in that other place. What a person does when they're not working can have an effect on how the job feels to them, how trapped they feel they are, how much hope they have for escape from it, where else they can allow their mind to wander to. IF all one has is the one job that is distasteful to them ,and they have no hobbies, interests, social life outside of that work, it will be particularly hellish. IF , on the other hand, they are take classes after or before work, or involved in a challenging, growth promoting and rewarding activity of some kind, this will almost certainly make its way into their thinking during work and make that work seem less onerous.
  • schopenhauer1
    2.7k
    So immersion may be the key. Either immersion in one's own substantive imagination, immersion in the job, or even immersion in a zen-like state of nothingness where one performs in an altered state.
    Some of these are habits, some are deceptions, but the most effective are also the most difficult, involving real use of creativity to transport oneself either more deeply into the work or deeply into another realm while working at the same time(kind of like how one can drive while not remembering driving.because one is immersed in an interesting podcast). Notice how the first day of work after a vacation often doesnt seem as bad because your head is still in that other place. What a person does when they're not working can have an effect on how the job feels to them, how trapped they feel they are, how much hope they have for escape from it, where else they can allow their mind to wander to. IF all one has is the one job that is distasteful to them ,and they have no hobbies, interests, social life outside of that work, it will be particularly hellish. IF , on the other hand, they are take classes after or before work, or involved in a challenging, growth promoting and rewarding activity of some kind, this will almost certainly make its way into their thinking during work and make that work seem less onerous.
    20 minutes ago
    Joshs

    Again, all of this comes down to the point where we have to do stuff ancillary to the work itself, to get the work done. We are the only species that contends with this and the reason is our very own self-aware nature. It is amazing we are able to get ourselves this far using these techniques.. narrative, distraction, deception, etc. I think this directly goes at Sartre's understanding that we are free but we choose to sometimes play a role and have bad faith. At work, we take the fake authority from the bossman. We do a task because we are sitting in the correct setting. We buy into the notion that the fear of losing a job is why we should care about this task now (habits of behavior and social signalling). We buy into the notion that a raise makes us care more or work harder. It's all just ways to get ourselves to do something. We don't just "do" something without self-reflection.
  • Joshs
    645
    "We are the only species that contends with this and the reason is our very own self-aware nature."

    Sartre believed we are self-aware. Freud didnt, and neither do postmodern philosophies (Heidegger, Derrida) or the phenomenologist Merleau-Ponty, Sartre's contemporary). These thinkers explained the skills you describe not as a composed self turning back to itself, but as a changing series of interactions with the world . These skills are just more complex versions of the sorts of metal adjustments that higher mammals make all the time to challenging situations. Can other animals deliberately use mental strategies? Yes, in a rudimentary way. For instance, dogs can display compulsive or ritualized behaviour that serves the function of mental soothing, even though it doesnt represent a pragmatic action directed at an object in the world. A trained dog will wait patiently for its master even though it is becoming anxious, and may use techniques such as whining to sooth itself and in order to 'do a distasteful job'. does it know its choices? Do we? What does it mean for us to know our choices and is this something we assess all at once, in advance, as surveyors of the realm? Or do we find ourselves discovering what constitutes our choices as our circumstances unfold for us, just as other mammals do?

    "It is amazing we are able to get ourselves this far using these techniques."

    What exactly is it that is amazing? Enactivist approaches in cognitive psychology are tracing the capabilities of sense-making to the most rudimentary self-organized living systems , so if our skills are amazing, then you can thank the paramecium, because in essence, single celled animals have the same skills(anticipatory cognition), only more complex in humans. Again , a matter of degree, not kind.

    " I think this directly goes at Sartre's understanding that we are free but we choose to sometimes play a role and have bad faith."
    Our freedom is limited by the constraints of our cultural embeddedness as well as our personal history. Most of what shapes our thinking is outside of our awareness(subpersonal bodily affect and perceptual processes, social cues). What most people think of consciousness is just a thin veneer of of mostly linguistic conceptualization on top of a complex web of subpersonal processes.
    Since a dog's cognition is also anticipatory rather than being bound to a purely immediate present, they share the dynamics of our freedom, but within a more constricted temporal horizon of anticipation.

    "We don't t just "do" something without self-reflection."

    We always just do something, but the doing is future oriented. A doing is an intending and an intending points beyond itself. So what we call reflection arises out of this always beyond itself of intending . This is what gives our purposes and goals their thread of consistency, or what you call 'reflection'. Your cat thinks intentionally also. Watch it become distracted by a noise while it is in the middle of a task. What causes it to return to the task which was interrupted? Because it continues to have the ongoing intention of the task in mind. It reflects back on its purpose.
    This continuing to have in mind( a better description would be the ongoing transformation of intentional acts) is what reflection is. We can glorify and fetishize our own more elaborated version of it in order to gush about how unique and free we are relative to the rest of the animal kingdom, but I think animal behavioral research is increasingly coming to the opinion that our reflective skills are not special and unique in themselves, only our ability to transform our intentions in a way that is more tightly self-consistent than other animals. This leads to our superior ability to strategize and plan, but such skills are also present on other animals.
  • schopenhauer1
    2.7k
    Can other animals deliberately use mental strategies? Yes, in a rudimentary way. For instance, dogs can display compulsive or ritualized behaviour that serves the function of mental soothing, even though it doesnt represent a pragmatic action directed at an object in the world. A trained dog will wait patiently for its master even though it is becoming anxious, and may use techniques such as whining to sooth itself and in order to 'do a distasteful job'. does it know its choices? Do we? What does it mean for us to know our choices and is this something we assess all at once, in advance, as surveyors of the realm? Or do we find ourselves discovering what constitutes our choices as our circumstances unfold for us, just as other mammals do?Joshs

    Although there are some parallels, I think you are overselling it. Humans have the capacity for a full-fledged language system. This allows for all sorts of things animals just cant' do, including self-talk and self-reflection. We can start a project not wanting to do the project. We can work on the project and evaluate as we are doing it, and we can look back on a project and evaluate how we liked it. Interesting enough, we probably use differing coping strategies to adapt to all three stages in a project we are dissatisfied with. We may start the project out of fear of getting fired, for example (amongst other reasons). We may be immersed in the project while doing it (effectively trying to zone everything out), or on the opposite end, we may distract ourselves by listening to music, doing the project at a slower or faster pace than normal, underperform, overperform, etc. etc. After the project, the human brain tends to get all pollyannaish and forget its distastefulness and say, "it wasn't that bad, but I still didn't like it". And on and on it goes.

    Anyways, the point is at almost any point before, during, or after the disliked task, the self-reflection is there. The point is to get through it, we have to perform all sorts of narratives, deceptions, habits, (and other techniques). Other animals naturally just do something as part of their programmed behavior. If the behavior is learned, it is a type of learning that is much more "if, then" and routine. In other words, with the correct exposure to the usual adaptive settings, they will learn that behavior no matter what. They don't have that ability for self-reflection. That is to say, they don't have the ability to make a large number of choices based on conceptual understanding of their own situation. We are the only animals that know that we make a choice, but we often make choices that are against our own initial wants and desires.

    Rather, by being a cultural creature, we take on values, and ideas, and techniques that allow us to submerge our rebellious, individual wants, and yet again, perform the daily grind. You can make parallels to Freud's ID getting submerged in the superego by the ego and balancing the two, but I'd only accept that as an analogy.
  • wax
    301
    I think a lot of people at work just focus on the future, like what they are going to do after work, at the week end, on their future holidays......they might enjoy thinking what they would do if they won the lottery as well....then also they might focus on what they do enjoy about their work situation, like interacting with other people; looking forward to their breaks...little perks like going for a cigarette.

    I have found that the feeling of coming off a shift can be a real pleasure in itself...a sudden feeling of freedom.
  • wax
    301
    one reason that some animals might not reflect on their situations is that they just feel compelled to fulfil certain actions. When they see and hear their chicks, they may feel compelled to look after them, they fear something bad might happen to them, like being killed by predators, or dying from lack of food.. They might not have the ability to wonder why they feel compelled like this....a bird probably isn't aware of the theory of evolution, and so not realise how it came to be compelled to do certain things.
    When it comes to looking just after itself, a bird might not be able to imagine another way of life...in the way humans can....I suppose in a lot of cases there isn't much to reflect on.
  • schopenhauer1
    2.7k
    I think a lot of people at work just focus on the future, like what they are going to do after work, at the week end, on their future holidays......they might enjoy thinking what they would do if they won the lottery as well....then also they might focus on what they do enjoy about their work situation, like interacting with other people; looking forward to their breaks...little perks like going for a cigarette.

    I have found that the feeling of coming off a shift can be a real pleasure in itself...a sudden feeling of freedom.
    wax

    That's fine, but this describes the different techniques I'm talking about. Animals don't even think on that level, but humans have to deal with concepts like "future freedom", or "future better time than now", etc. to get through. It's interesting that we can get anything done with our knowledge that we don't like what we are doing in the present, but feel compelled to do it because we have also convinced ourselves it "needs" to get done. Survival is there in the background, but survival has been abstracted into values that we take on, not just a direct immediate feeling that is programmed.
  • schopenhauer1
    2.7k
    one reason that some animals might not reflect on their situations is that they just feel compelled to fulfil certain actions.wax

    Yes, we call that instinct- something hardwired in genetics/brain responses/behaviors. It is not abstracted into cultural concepts called "values" that are then taken on by the human via enculturation. We are often motivated by values that are enculturated into us..They are useful narratives (or deceptions) by culture to give us the impetus to work through things we don't want to. It is not a knee-jerk instinct like other animals. It is not an unthinking, unreflective phenomenon, but rather something we take on via cultural transmission and individual acceptance of cultural values.

    When they see and hear their chicks, they may feel compelled to look after them, they fear something bad might happen to them, like being killed by predators, or dying from lack of food.. They might not have the ability to wonder why they feel compelled like this....a bird probably isn't aware of the theory of evolution, and so not realise how it came to be compelled to do certain things.
    When it comes to looking just after itself, a bird might not be able to imagine another way of life...in the way humans can....I suppose in a lot of cases there isn't much to reflect on.
    wax

    Right..this whole taking umbrage to me saying other animals can't really self-reflect on their own existential situation, shouldn't be so controversial. I'm not saying they don't have other capacities, but without language and the intendant cognitive abilities, they just can't. But they do make a good foil for what we don't do.
  • Joshs
    645
    "Although there are some parallels, I think you are overselling it. Humans have the capacity for a full-fledged language system. This allows for all sorts of things animals just cant' do, including self-talk and self-reflection. We can start a project not wanting to do the project. We can work on the project and evaluate as we are doing it, and we can look back on a project and evaluate how we liked it. Interesting enough, we probably use differing coping strategies to adapt to all three stages in a project we are dissatisfied with. We may start the project out of fear of getting fired, for example (amongst other reasons). We may be immersed in the project while doing it (effectively trying to zone everything out), or on the opposite end, we may distract ourselves by listening to music, doing the project at a slower or faster pace than normal, underperform, overperform, etc. etc. After the project, the human brain tends to get all pollyannaish and forget its distastefulness and say, "it wasn't that bad, but I still didn't like it". And on and on it goes."

    Even without the use of formal language , animals do symbolize their experieince in that they interpret their world to themselves. This is how dolphins and certain primates can achieve all the steps you just mentioned in a rudimentary way without linguistic conceptualization.

    "According to one of the leading scholars in the field, there is an emerging consensus among scientists that animals share functional parallels with humans' conscious metacognition -- that is, our ability to reflect on our own mental processes and guide and optimize them."

    "Smith inaugurated animal metacognition as a new field of study in 1995 with research on a bottlenosed dolphin. The dolphin assessed correctly when the experimenter's trials were too difficult for him, and adaptively declined to complete those trials."

    "his second article by Smith and colleagues also supports the consensus that animals share with humans a form of the self-reflective, metacognitive capacity. In all respects," says Smith, "their capacity for uncertainty monitoring, and for responding to uncertainty adaptively, show close correspondence to the same processes in humans."
    http://www.buffalo.edu/news/releases/2012/03/13292.html
  • schopenhauer1
    2.7k
    Even without the use of formal language , animals do symbolize their experieince in that they interpret their world to themselves. This is how dolphins and certain primates can achieve all the steps you just mentioned in a rudimentary way without linguistic conceptualization.Joshs

    So when they say self-reflection, are they talking about the ability to evaluate whether they like doing a certain task and then doing it anyways because they decided to deceive themselves, provide a narrative, and other such thing? I don't think we are talking about the same thing. Just because they have some "self-reflective' capacities, doesn't mean that they can have "ennui" about their situation, or understand that they are "radically free", or any other conception. This is becoming a red herring that is diverting the point.
  • Joshs
    645

    "Just because they have some "self-reflective' capacities, doesn't mean that they can have "ennui" about their situation, or understand that they are "radically free", or any other conception."

    I would agree with you, but the issue for me is whether that human advantage comes from a qualitatively different capacity, as I think Sartre would want to argue, or simply a point of greater complexity on a spectrum we share with other animals. That's where I think Sartre's concepts of 'freedom' , self-consciousness, self-reflection and the Will are key. Because if we buy into his understanding of what makes humans unique in this respect, we will believe in a qualitative break between humans and other sentient beings.

    On the other hand, if we go with recent thinking in cognitive science as well as contributions from philosophers like Freud, Nietzsche and others, we can abandon the idea that meta-cognition is a matter of there being as self that can survey the domain of its experience without its very nature being transformed. That is to say, if knowing is a form of self-transforming interaction with a world, then reflection is not controlled by a self so much as what we call a self is a momentary scheme of understanding which is controlled and shaped and transformed by a changing situation. Seen this way, we do not will or direct what or how we reflect so much as we find ourselves being directed toward certain forms of adaptive modification of our schemes of understanding and assessment within contextual situations.

    It is only after the fact that we claim that we 'willed' ourselves into cognitive strategies of coping. So I can agree with you that we move through these situations with a much more sophisticated level of strategic complexity than other animals. But I would tend to de-emphasize Sartre's championing the 'radical' freedom of human thinking , to the extent that he conceives of it in terms of a volunteerism or agency of the self, a 'choosing' to will, rather than finding oneself willing. We are no more free than what we will, and what we will is not within our control.This makes us no more free than other animals. dont get me wrong . I am not a strict determinist with regard to either animals or humans. I just think in both cases freedom is not something that is owned by a self.


    Sartre never fully embraced the insights of evolutionary biology as regards the organization of human motivation(this is why he rejected Freud and pragmatism) and this shows in his notion of human freedom. He wanted to keep the metaphysical notion of freedom that he inherited from German Idealism(Will as pure self-awareness) even though he proclaimed himself an atheist.

    In sum, I see Sartre's animal-human dichotomy as between automatic , instinctive causal mechanism on the one hand and human capacity for self-knowing on the other(sounds very Cartesian to me).
    Contemporary cognitive science argues that behavior of intelligent animals is characterized primarily by intentionally directed, affectively organized cognition just as is human thought. The strength of human thinking lies not in the pure awareness of a self, but on the contrary, in the variability of the ways, moment to moment, humans adaptively change this contingent self. Both humans and and other animals are basically evolutionarily adaptive self-transformation machines. We simply outperfom other creatures in our speed and variability of self-modification. But we can hardly give ourselves credit for this without first recognizing that this 'self' that we want to champion doesnt survive the modifications of thinking intact. Self is as much a temporary byproduct as it is commander. Deception, distraction and narrative could just as accurately be described as that which forms and reforms a self as they would be its handiwork.
  • schopenhauer1
    2.7k
    In sum, I see Sartre's animal-human dichotomy as between automatic , instinctive causal mechanism on the one hand and human capacity for self-knowing on the other(sounds very Cartesian to me).
    Contemporary cognitive science argues that behavior of intelligent animals is characterized primarily by intentionally directed, affectively organized cognition just as is human thought. The strength of human thinking lies not in the pure awareness of a self, but on the contrary, in the variability of the ways, moment to moment, humans adaptively change this contingent self. Both humans and and other animals are basically evolutionarily adaptive self-transformation machines. We simply outperfom other creatures in our speed of self-modification. But we can hardly give ourselves credit for this without first recognizing that this 'self' that we want to champion doesnt survive the modifications of thinking intact. Self is more of a temporary byproduct than commander.
    Joshs

    I mean, these are valid points, but I don't see how they challenge my main point here. 1) We can KNOW that we don't like doing certain things at a certain time (I acknowledge this can change with time). 2) We can get through it through employing strategies. What strategies? I mentioned them in the OP. There is enculturation into habits of thoughts (this is probably the most ingrained way to bypass dislike, to the point of the dislike being negated itself), there are narratives, and there is other conceptual ways we deal. Much of this comes from VALUES, things that only occur in a species that transmits cultural IDEAS.

    Anyways, the point was not the mechanics- you may even enlighten me on some ideas there- I am fine with that. Rather, it is the implication that we can know we don't like a task, and then have to bypass that dislike by taking upon us strategies and values that sort of "fool us" into doing it anyways. We know technically we don't "have" to do it, but we somehow make ourselves do it out of conception of future consequences, or simply taking on values that we buy into.
  • Possibility
    155
    How do we decide we don’t like a task, though? It seems a rather simplified description of how one would feel about performing a task at any one moment, let alone when explored as an ongoing relationship with that task.

    For most animals, their response to a task appears as a two dimensional relationship: they are aware of a stimulus, and they respond according to a current position in spacetime. They may develop awareness of the relationship that stimulus has to other stimuli in spacetime, as well as awareness of the position in spacetime which responds.

    Humans have developed this awareness to the point where we have complex and multi-dimensional relationships with our relationships in time and space, and developed language to communicate abstractly. So when I say that I don’t like a task, I am often asked to specify what it is that I don’t like about that task, and how that relates to the current sense of I that doesn’t like it.

    A plumber might say, ‘I don’t like the smell I experience when I’m hosing out the inside of a septic tank.’ Who would? But he might like many of the other aspects of his job - whether it’s being able to maintain clean equipment, providing a quality service to customers, a sense of pride in having a unique skill set that contributes to the community and puts food on the table. It’s the weight he personally places on each of these ‘feelings’ towards his job and surrounding that particular task that may outweigh what he dislikes about it. He’s not fooling himself - he’s made choices in life (based on sense, feeling and reasoning) that have led him here, and while he’s aware of choices that may lead him away from a specific task he doesn’t like, he’s not willing to give up what he does like (and if you’re wondering where this example came from, watch the Australian mockumentary film ‘Kenny’ with Shane Jacobson).

    I don’t think it’s ever as simple as bypassing a dislike by ‘fooling ourselves’ into doing it anyway. I think we make decisions in life conscious of the complex interconnectedness of those decisions with other aspects of our life. What we articulate as our reasoning often barely scratches the surface of what went on in our minds to reach that point. And a large proportion of it was based not on reasoning but on ‘feeling’, which doesn’t always translate into words.
  • schopenhauer1
    2.7k
    A plumber might say, ‘I don’t like the smell I experience when I’m hosing out the inside of a septic tank.’ Who would? But he might like many of the other aspects of his job - whether it’s being able to maintain clean equipment, providing a quality service to customers, a sense of pride in having a unique skill set that contributes to the community and puts food on the table.Possibility

    Right, I'm not arguing it isn't multi-dimensional, but that we take on values that can override the dislike a task. You named a few examples right there. A bird doesn't a) know it doesn't like gathering seeds (and it probably can't even register such evaluative ideas like, "dislike survival task". However, humans have a whole range of negative emotions, but we submerge ourselves in culturo-linguistic values and narratives to help us justify doing the unsatisfactory task. We have a story that we dislike, and we have a story of why we must still do the dislike.

    It’s the weight he personally places on each of these ‘feelings’ towards his job and surrounding that particular task that may outweigh what he dislikes about it. He’s not fooling himself - he’s made choices in life (based on sense, feeling and reasoning) that have led him here, and while he’s aware of choices that may lead him away from a specific task he doesn’t like, he’s not willing to give up what he does like (and if you’re wondering where this example came from, watch the Australian mockumentary film ‘Kenny’ with Shane Jacobson).Possibility

    Sure, but the point is the reasoning, sensing, feeling itself is not something other animals do. It goes back to the choice and freedom of humans to employ all sorts of things to get through an unsatisfactory task. This just expands the strategies not rejects the major point.

    I don’t think it’s ever as simple as bypassing a dislike by ‘fooling ourselves’ into doing it anyway. I think we make decisions in life conscious of the complex interconnectedness of those decisions with other aspects of our life. What we articulate as our reasoning often barely scratches the surface of what went on in our minds to reach that point. And a large proportion of it was based not on reasoning but on ‘feeling’, which doesn’t always translate into words.Possibility

    I can support this, except in a way all values are "fooling ourselves". If we take on values we initially don't like because other values outweigh it, and those other values are ones that the culture has been instilling in the individual all along..it's not outright deception, but it is a habituation strategy by society to get the individual primed to take on unsatisfactory tasks. However, the more obstinate individual, the rebellious ones, let's say, the one's less satisfied and who haven't fully enculturated these overriding strategies, it will be harder for them.. Something you won't have so much in the bird world. They don't need to weigh or justify anything. We live in a word of culture and choices. There is no set anything other than we don't like starving, being cold, bored, etc. and few other stuff related to physical preferences and psychological entertainment needs (not being bored). But, as far as how that manifests- we take on the values necessary to weigh why we do anything. Many times we pretend the choice was a given, when it was still a choice. It may be a de facto choice based on expectations, but the fact that it was a choice and not a programmed hard-wired behavior makes our situation constantly one of overriding dissatisfactory tasks with narratives and strategies. The animal that needs to constantly justify why it does anything.
  • Joshs
    645
    Values are not something we 'take on' as a purely free choice, and are inseparable from understanding. Value comes from evaluation which implies interpretation which is fundamental to any cognizing organism.
    In fact your use of the word 'value' comes from Nietzsche's notion of value system, which he recognized as common to all organisms.

    Every account of the world organizes itself as a value system. Since all animals cognize, they all have values just as we do, and ambivalence, wavering , anxiety are shown by intelligent animals in situations of value conflicts. A dog's ambivalence and anxiety can be triggered by such conflicts due to the particulars of his socialization within the culture of his pack(human or dog).

    Maybe what youre trying to get at by your claim that values are 'fooling ourselves' is something like the idea of cognitive dissonance or Freudian repression. These are forms of self-deception in that one part of the mind knows something that it hides from the other for adaptive reasons.

    Of course not all psychologists accept the model of repression, instead arguing that we dont have to assume self-decepetion in order to explain how we slog through something unpleasant. One doesn't misrepresent their values to themselves, they explicitly construe themselves as the kind of person who is tolerating unplesantness because the world is the kind of place where unpleasant situation arise often, and more importantly, I am the kind of person who is willing to tolerate the unpleasant.. Built into this valuative framework may be a kind of admittance of failure, disappointment and frustration, but that is not a self-deception, it is a kind of question mark.

    We construct value systems all the time which express our puzzlement at why and how we ended up in such apparently unresolvable situations when according to our previous self-valuation we thought of ourselves as the kind of person who would not tolerate such things. Our finding ourselves persevering through distasteful experience can then be thought of as a kind of crisis in our self-construal, a recognition that the template by which we measured ourselves , and our role with respect to others(I'm the kind of person who does not settle, who has too much pride and dignity,etc), has proved to be unworkable. If we have no way of 'repairing' , that is, of reconstruing our sense of ourselves through a more robust value system that explains to ourselves our failure to live up to our expectations, then we will slog though our miserable job feeling like a confused failure.

    There is no internal dishonesty involved in such constructions of our world. The fact that they are accurate representations of the way we are attempting to understand our plight is evidenced by the possibility that we can , through further reflection and reconstrual, come to some resolution of our confusion, ambivalence and frustration. Not by pretending we suddenly like what we;re doing, but by, for example, coming to understand why we compromised our initial values, why we failed to uphold those values. Its also important to break down precisely what it is in a job that produces the sensation of unpleasantness. It may not be the job 'as a whole' but certain of parts of it, Do we then have to fool ourselves to get through those moments? How does an animal gnaw its paw off to escape from a trap?

    How does it slog through this unpleasantness? By pretending gnawing its appendage off doesnt hurt so much? Obviously not. The animal's perception shifts back and forth between the pain of extricating itself and the pain of and fear of being trapped. At one moment one perception wins out and the animal stops trying to free itself,and the next moment the fear overwhelms the pain and it recommences its attempt to escape. This oscillation between anticipation of pain and reward explains many human behaviors in situations of ambivalence and unpleasantness, such as addiction. No account of self-deception is needed to explain perseverance through the unpleasant via oscillation between perception of reward and punishment, only a long memory. IF we remain at a lousy job, we know which perception has won out, but not likely completely, as I mentioned above. Reward may have just barely overcome punishment to allow for our perseverance, but often the price we pay is a crisis of personal identity that sometimes leads to explosive violence, which is ever more common these days.
  • Sir2u
    1.7k
    Perhaps some people don't self-reflect that much. I guess this is for the people who know they don't like doing the work they are doing. I refuse to believe some people don't reflect on whether they like the work they are doing. They may not communicate it perhaps. Or they are buying into a narrative, deception, or habit of mind. But that is my exact premise.schopenhauer1

    I think most people have some part of their job that don't like, so they focus on the benefits they get from it. It is not that they are buying into a narrative or performing some sort of self deception but simple that they realize that there is little most of them can do about it so they don't sweat it.

    I have had many jobs starting at 17 working as a garbageman for the local council. It paid my educational expenses and because we did the job well we were respected and got lots of tips. I had nice clothes and cash to go out at weekends and party. But I really was not happy about the job, it was hard and could be messy. I left after I had a non-work related accident and sourly missed the money in my next job, sitting on a mowing machine cut miles of grass all day did not get you tips.
  • schopenhauer1
    2.7k
    Values are not something we 'take on' as a purely free choice, and are inseparable from understanding. Value comes from evaluation which implies interpretation which is fundamental to any cognizing organism.Joshs

    This is conflating two separate phenomenon. Evaluating the sound of a threat is not the same as evaluating an idea.

    In fact your use of the word 'value' comes from Nietzsche's notion of value system, which he recognized as common to all organisms.Joshs

    Then he is overmining the term.

    Every account of the world organizes itself as a value system. Since all animals cognize, they all have values just as we do, and ambivalence, wavering , anxiety are shown by intelligent animals in situations of value conflicts. A dog's ambivalence and anxiety can be triggered by such conflicts due to the particulars of his socialization within the culture of his pack(human or dog).Joshs

    Now you are undermining. You think that humans take on values like other animals. Dogs don't have the ability to choose, or to know there is even a choice. It is much more fixed. To present it as if humans pick from a range of values at the level of a dog is a misrepresentation of human choice and a red herring at best.

    Maybe what youre trying to get at by your claim that values are 'fooling ourselves' is something like the idea of cognitive dissonance or Freudian repression. These are forms of self-deception in that one part of the mind knows something that it hides from the other for adaptive reasons.Joshs

    Yes that is getting close. The idea that we are kind of fooling ourselves in order to get something unpleasant done. There is sort of a subtle resignation, self-deception, or narrative going on that this is what must be done at the time. It could be out off laziness of thinking of ways to get out of the task, even. Either way, there is a weighing of ideas, and following certain values.

    Of course not all psychologists accept the model of repression, instead arguing that we dont have to assume self-decepetion in order to explain how we slog through something unpleasant. One doesn't misrepresent their values to themselves, they explicitly construe themselves as the kind of person who is tolerating unplesantness because the world is the kind of place where unpleasant situation arise often, and more importantly, I am the kind of person who is willing to tolerate the unpleasant.. Built into this valuative framework may be a kind of admittance of failure, disappointment and frustration, but that is not a self-deception, it is a kind of question mark.Joshs

    Yes yes, I have nothing against this idea. It again, doesn't go against my premise which is that we take on values in order to get through unpleasant things. It could be through a sort of deception, but it could be just explicitly taking on values. But again, this is tremendously different than the world of let's say a bird, who is hardwired to just do the task at hand. A bird or even a dog don't use values to motivate themselves in the way humans do.

    We construct value systems all the time which express our puzzlement at why and how we ended up in such apparently unresolvable situations when according to our previous self-valuation we thought of ourselves as the kind of person who would not tolerate such things. Our finding ourselves persevering through distasteful experience can then be thought of as a kind of crisis in our self-construal, a recognition that the template by which we measured ourselves , and our role with respect to others(I'm the kind of person who does not settle, who has too much pride and dignity,etc), has proved to be unworkable. If we have no way of 'repairing' , that is, of reconstruing our sense of ourselves through a more robust value system that explains to ourselves our failure to live up to our expectations, then we will slog though our miserable job feeling like a confused failure.Joshs

    Again, I don't disagree, but this is agreeing with what I'm saying, not disagreeing with it. So yeah.

    There is no internal dishonesty involved in such constructions of our world. The fact that they are accurate representations of the way we are attempting to understand our plight is evidenced by the possibility that we can , through further reflection and reconstrual, come to some resolution of our confusion, ambivalence and frustration. Not by pretending we suddenly like what we;re doing, but by, for example, coming to understand why we compromised our initial values, why we failed to uphold those values. Its also important to break down precisely what it is in a job that produces the sensation of unpleasantness. It may not be the job 'as a whole' but certain of parts of it, Do we then have to fool ourselves to get through those moments? How does an animal gnaw its paw off to escape from a trap?Joshs

    Yes indeed, good points. But I think you are hung up a bit too much on the self-deception part. There are other strategies too, but the point is that it is a culturo-linguistic way of knowing the situation (I dislike this), and then having strategies to override, overcome, avoid, etc. this situation. I only suggested that part of it is buying into a narrative.. some of which you laid out nicely in your examples. We are the animal that knows that we dislike a situation and also have to find ways to overcome it. It's a very weird system. Imagine a world where the human animal did not have any reflective abilities. We were just like birds, let's say. We did stuff day in and day out, the daily grind, and had no evaluation of value whatsoever (value in the sense of knowing you like or dislike something). Again, it's almost impossible to imagine because we are species with linguistic capabilities that provide choices and understanding that we are in situations we don't want to be in. It is an odd thing for an animal, but here we are.

    How does it slog through this unpleasantness? By pretending gnawing its appendage off doesnt hurt so much? Obviously not. The animal's perception shifts back and forth between the pain of extricating itself and the pain of and fear of being trapped. At one moment one perception wins out and the animal stops trying to free itself,and the next moment the fear overwhelms the pain and it recommences its attempt to escape. This oscillation between anticipation of pain and reward explains many human behaviors in situations of ambivalence and unpleasantness, such as addiction. No account of self-deception is needed to explain perseverance through the unpleasant via oscillation between perception of reward and punishment, only a long memory. IF we remain at a lousy job, we know which perception has won out, but not likely completely, as I mentioned above. Reward may have just barely overcome punishment to allow for our perseverance, but often the price we pay is a crisis of personal identity that sometimes leads to explosive violence, which is ever more common these days.Joshs

    I think you are really conflating animal reward systems with something different because it is similar, but it is not the same. Instead of this idea of present tolerance for future reward being something that is a heightened degree of what other animals do, I think it is different altogether. Rather, we are a linguistic animals which really does change the game. I know it is the en vogue thing now to downplay any human differences, but I think it is providing a blindspot to some true differences that a linguistically evolved brain provides the human animal. Having this capacity means we are constantly creating reasons for making decisions. These reasons come from all sorts of places.. The "need" to get a job is a reason we give ourselves for getting an unpleasant job let's say. The fun we have on the weekend is a reason we slog through, perhaps. The unpleasantness of finding a new job maybe a reason we tell ourselves it is better to stay in the current job. It is easier to let entropy take it's course, in that regard. Also, the culture provides the matter in which the form takes. The culture already set up things so that we have "jobs" that provide "money" and that require a set of processes like "interviews" and that there is a hierarchical "structure" to an organization, etc. etc. All this is historically developed ideas that we then use as a jumping off point for our own reasonings as it is the milieu in which we make decisions in. Then on top of these structures are values we take on to some degree. The value of hard work, the value of pride in work, the value of being recognized, etc. etc. So, we can personally not like doing something, but then use the value/conceptual tools of the culture to override our personal dislike. It is just amazing that we allow ourselves to do this.
  • schopenhauer1
    2.7k
    I think most people have some part of their job that don't like, so they focus on the benefits they get from it. It is not that they are buying into a narrative or performing some sort of self deception but simple that they realize that there is little most of them can do about it so they don't sweat it.

    I have had many jobs starting at 17 working as a garbageman for the local council. It paid my educational expenses and because we did the job well we were respected and got lots of tips. I had nice clothes and cash to go out at weekends and party. But I really was not happy about the job, it was hard and could be messy. I left after I had a non-work related accident and sourly missed the money in my next job, sitting on a mowing machine cut miles of grass all day did not get you tips.
    Sir2u

    Yes I can agree with this but again, this goes to my point. We are the animal that weighs things and takes on values. We don't just "do the job of garbageman" without thinking about it. We don't do the business of surviving like other animals might. There is an evaluation, an understanding of choice, and understanding we are doing something we don't want to while we are doing it.
  • Sir2u
    1.7k
    We don't do the business of surviving like other animals might.schopenhauer1

    Actually, I think that here you are wrong. We do go about the business of survival, just like every other living thing. The only difference is the way we do it.

    Let us go back to the black bird for a minute. You agreed that they are capable of intelligence and innovation to solve problems.

    Another example would be the snail shells I found on my roof awhile back. How did they get up there? After looking around at the other houses I saw that only mine had shells on it. After some thought I aligned one of the security cameras so that it would show a piece of the roof. Turned out that the culprit was crows, they dropped the snails on the roof and waited till they came out of the shell to escape the heat. Dinner served. Turns out that my house is the only one around with a small degree of inclination and the snails don't roll off.

    If the animals are doing things like this instead of doing things as the have all along there must be a reason. Humans started finding easier ways to do things because they realized that it was hard work the way they had been doing it. Would it not be possible that we think animals are not aware of these things but actually they are?

    There again, maybe birds don't complain about their jobs because they actually enjoy them. Making love in the trees, eating healthy food outdoors, no schedules to keep, only having to look after the kids for a couple of months and no college bills to pay. Humans would not bitch about those working conditions.
  • Joshs
    645

    "I know it is the en vogue thing now to downplay any human differences, but I think it is providing a blindspot to some true differences that a linguistically evolved brain provides the human animal. Having this capacity means we are constantly creating reasons for making decisions."

    Animal reward systems, like human ones, are not stimulus-response mechanisms, but cognitive interpretive ones. What constitutes punishment or reward is relative to our conceptual aims(yes, animals have concepts, even without formal language).

    "It is just amazing that we allow ourselves to do this."

    It would be amazing if it worked. Reasons we create out of whole cloth dont fool ourselves. If we were able to successfully create out of whole cloth deceptive reasons for doing something, we wouldn't even need to talk about deception. We could just exist as pure subjectivities able to fabricate whatever reality we chose. Reasons have to connect organically to coping with circumstances such as to change our perception of those circumstances in an effective way. THAT'S when human coping skills are truly amazing. Simply telling ourselves something will act as no more than a hypothesis to be tested in our actual engagement with the world, and if it cannot pragmatically alter such engagement positively we will know it as a failure.

    The fact that you call coping strategies deceptions means you recognize that we are aware that such strategies don't accurately describe and make sense of a situation they are designed to help us get through.

    A worker using such strategies is also aware of the fact that a story he tells himself to feel better about being stuck in a job wont be effective unless it has truth to it relative to his real situation. That's why self- deceptions act as no more than a thin veneer over our suffering. They don't succeed in fooling us. If you ask anyone who you think is using such techniques how they really FEEL about their job, how their body is manifesting the stress of the job though ulcers, high blood pressure and muscle spasms , they will be able to be quite accurate about their assessment of their situation, in SPITE of their rationalization, which may have been designed more for your benefit than theirs.

    I mentioned two ways to understand the process of coping with unpleasant reality. The first is through moment to moment, hour to hour and day to day oscillations in punishment-reward assessment. Again , this is not a stimulus- response mechanism but a dynamically active interpretive conceptualization and reconceptualization of what is perceived by us to be genuinely rewarding or punishing to us relative to our meaningful goals, values and sense of self.
    The second way to understand a situation is related to the first as a metalevel of conceptual-valuative assessment. This pertains to the global difference between a job which is overall rewarding and satisfying but has moments of unpleasantness, vs a job that may have a few moments here and there of reward but is on the whole unsatisfying. The first instance would be akin to watching a suspenseful or scary movie. The moments of anxiety are overwhelmed by the overall positive experience of having overcome situations without having been placed into too much suffering. The second situation of overwhelming lack of satisfaction happens when there is a lot at stake for us in terms of pride, goals, self-respect. That is, features of a situation that impact deeply on our sense of ourselves. That is not something a bandaid like self-deception can ameliorate.

    Self-deceptions dont work. We make our way through much of life's unpleasantness knowing, and FEELING full well what is lacking for us in our experience.
    A self-deception is not adaptive in pragmatic coping except in the most superficial way, like putting lipstick on a pig.
    What seems to be missing from your analysis of human reason is that human values and motives are tied to the fact that there is an internal integrity or self-consistency to the organization of meaning that we carry with us into situations to allow us to interpret what we expereince coherently. Satisfaction and dissatisfaction are perceived relative to the way that the world matches up to or invalidates our ongoing hypotheses of it.
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