Oh, You’re So Pragmatic.

Summer                                    Full Strawberry Moon

“My experience is what I agree to attend to.” – William James

Pragmatism and pragmatists are an original American (US) contribution to the history of Western philosophy.  Since I can’t get my hands around it well, I’ll not try to explain it, though on its on my list.

But.  William James was among its founders and early proponents along with Charles Saunders Pierce and John Dewey.  He was also an early American psychologist as was Dewey.  So.  James is an important guy in philosophy, psychology and the psychology of religion, The Varieties of Religious Experience.

His quote above is disarmingly simple.  On the face of it you might say, well, yeah.  Whatever, old dude.  If you took that perspective, you probably skipped over two important words:  I agree.  Now, I’m not going to get into the free will debate, very complicated at this moment in cognitive science, so I interpret this as our attention will go where we intend for it to go.  It’s the intentional nature of the I agree that I want to lift out and underline.

Why?  It reminded me of a dilemma I spoke with Kate about just this week, “Kate, there are several things, for example, pragmatism, Taoism, aesthetics, the Enlightenment that I would like to explore in greater depth.  The problem is that to do it I have to have sit down time, lots of it, to read complicated material and absorb it.”

“Yes,” she said, “There are just aren’t enough hours in a day.”

Just so.  We have a limited amount of time, that’s a given, both day to day, and in this finite trip, life.  How I agree to direct my attention will determine the nature of my experience.  If I choose to garden, I will not be reading Dewey’s Reconstruction of Philosophy.  If I choose to do Latin and translate the Metamorphosis, I cannot, at the same time, read Chuang Tzu.  If I use time writing this blog, I cannot use the same time to write a novel.  And so on.  And on.

Just using those examples I have chosen to direct my experience toward the garden, the soil and complex interactions within them both.  I have chosen to fill some of my experience with Latin grammar and vocabulary and learning how to translate.  I choose to write this blog and so have the experience of an ongoing journal/diary/weblog.

Is there anything bad about these choices?  No, at least not in my opinion.  I do, though, have to reckon with what James identifies.  Each of those choices makes other choices if not impossible at least less likely, therefore directing my stream of attention and with it my experience in one direction and not another.

The point here is that you decide the type and quality of the experiences you have and those experience not only shape your life, they are your life.  So, choose well.  And know what your choices mean.

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