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A Meta-Philosophy: the Qualitatively Surreal Ouroboros of Transformative Conversations

What is Philosophy, what is Philosophising like, and how is Philosophy and Philosophizing done? These are the questions of meta-philosophy. For World Philosophy Day 2022, I will present a Meta-Philosophy that I have come to in my own readings, education and formal training in a love/hate relationship with Analytic Philosophy.

graphic art credits: inoumena.

The motive of meta-Philosophy:

Meta-Philosophy sounds baffeling. But it actually comes from the most clear-headed intentions that any arena of Philosophy can muster. It is merely an attempt to get clear on what all this thinking is, what it really does, and how it should be done [see here for more on why do meta-anything [1]]. In the spirit of meta-Philosophy, I hope to demonstrate in the most clear-headed way possible that Philosophy is: a Qualitatively Surreal Ouroboros of Transformative Conversations!

What is Philosophy?

Philosophy is an Ouroboros:

Philosophy is a snake with it’s tail in it’s mouth. This is not to say that Philosophy says little, or that when it does it is unclear (although sometimes it does seem so). This metaphor also does not intend to say that Philosophy makes no progress and is thus infinitely intractable [2]. Rather, the Ouroboros is intended to denote that philosophising is loopy, and seemingly infinite in its self-consuming methods of enquiry – often consuming of its parts and never far from consuming itself whole. In this sense, Philosophers are always trying to take the tail from the mouth, straighten things out, and let the ideas entail what they will under the demands of intelligible reasons.

However, merely taking the tail from the mouth is not the main endeavour of successful philosophical enquiry. Some ideas will consume themselves whole, mouth-to-tail and tail-to-mouth - and so much the better are our ideas for it! Whereas some ideas are only partially consumed, and mostly salvageable. In such instances, great (technical) care and attention are required in the process of distancing the tail from the mouth. This is a process of defending and amending, reposition things as best we can. Regardless of the shape of the idea, the job of good philosophical enquiry is to be able to perceive the difference between a self-consuming idea and a salvageable idea, and diligently communicate that difference [3].

What is Philosophising like?

Philosophy is like surrealism:

Repeat the same word enough times and eventually you will become estranged from your prior interpretation of meaning that word used to generate. Instead, you will experience that particular word on the scale of all words, of language itself, for what it is: noise (or in this particular instance of written language, a linear sequences of visual symbols). The process is called semantic saturation. I believe Philosophy scales-up semantic saturation, inducing a broader kind of schematic saturation.

Schematic saturation is characteristic of philosophy in that it, like semantic saturation, induces a kind of estrangement from, a transcendence beyond, one’s initial superficial surface-level interpretation of the meanings of things. Post-Philosophising, one’s schematic interpretation of the world is thereafter saturated by new hues, revealing new dimensions and depths. This is where one experiences a sense of estrangement from the familiar automaticity of our pre-saturated cognition. The process of saturation and its ensuing estrangement is what Philosophy, just like Surrealism, reliably produces in its participants: the qualia of surreality [4].

According to contemporary neuro-science, the difference between reality and non-reality (such as dreams and hallucinations) is that reality is a kind of “controlled hallucination” performed by our brains. In this case, Philosophy, just like Surrealism, is a complete derailing our so-called sense of control. In derailing our familiar, prior and common-sense interpretations, we are somewhat paradoxically, brought closer to the way things are - multiply realisable, chaotic, uncertain, fluid and forever in flux.

How is Philosophy and Philosophizing done?

Philosophy and Philosophising are transformative conversations:

It seems that Philosophy is often considered to be about combat, a chess-like duel of minds set on end-gaming an opponent by de-bunking, destroying and defeating their ideas. I believe this comes from prevailing cultural remnants of romanticism (and its politically-expressed extension via libertarian social atomism), that seem to champion the lone thinker taking on the world themselves. In many ways, contemporary practices in Analytic Philosophy often seem to celebrate such romantic notions and end-gaming types of framings [5]. However, Philosophy and Philosophers are not standing on their own, outside of themselves, looking in at the world and others with a critical eye. They are in fact standing in the same place as everyone else, on the shoulders of millions who came before them. There is no vacuum - nature abhors a vacuum.

Rather, I believe Philosophy is about something radically different. To me, Philosophy is a about sustaining a co-operative conversation across an individual’s lifetime between the self and an I, and just as importantly, between the self and other, across tables, rooms, time and culture. It is far from the conversation-killing, combative end-gaming tactics of the so-called “hyper-rational” beings. After all, there is a reason one of the most celebrated philosophical figures was known for intentionally not writing Philosophy, and its’ the same reason his student Plato did eventually put his teachings to paper in the format that he did: that reason is the significance of others in thinking things through, in value of conversation! In this sense, we are more like hyper-relational beings. [6]. This aspect of our being requires responsiveness, allowing ourselves to be pressed to articulate ourselves, to be buffeted by strange opinions and begging to hear more of them. It requires a sense of wonder in all the ways in which you might be mistaken and how others might help aid your limited, intrinsically uni-minded interpretation of things.

Philosophical conversations are a kind of trialogue between self, I and other. Self-and-I converse to inquire what one genuinely thinks, I-and-other get to externalise what self-and-I think, other-and-I advance and explore those thoughts; and the cycle continuous back to self-and-I get to converse what is internalised to see what one really thinks; and so the cycle continuous, and so the cycle continuous, and so the cycle continuous, and so the cycle continuous... This trialogue is what taking the tail out of the snakes’ mouth really looks like, and surrealism is what it really feels like. But transforming is what this all really does!

Philosophising is in this sense the ultimate alchemical experience; a psychedelic experience without the psychedelics; a transcendence from I, to self to other; the qualitatively surreal ouroboros in a transformative conversation.



[1] Why do meta-anything? Any prior understandings of any given thing allows us to form a relation to that thing. This informs and guides us towards the possible actions we think we can take toward that thing. The potency of examining our prior understandings of, and thus relation to, Philosophy should then help to inform and guide us towards the possible actions we think we can take. Doing so should enhance the scope, point and possibilities of Philosophy. To do a thing, to perform a thing, to use a thing, is to do, perform and use that thing with a certain notion of its current abilities, limitations and possibilities. In attempting to explore that thing, to pin it down, articulate the details of that thing, you come closer to revealing new capabilities, limitations and possibilities regarding that thing. This, to me, is the oddity of the relational nature of human-beings: we relate to any given pursuit or action with a prior conception of it, which in turn forms the thing itself - it is a kind of feedback loop between forming a belief and being, in turn, formed by it. One way of conceiving of meta-Philosophy then is to think of it as a kind of articulation of one’s prior interpretation, or hermeneutic, of Philosophy. Thus, meta-philosophy is a kind of hermeneutical analysis of Philosophers and Philosophy

[2] Although some issues do, or seemingly do, face an infinite regress of terms. In these cases, it is sometimes required that we bootstrap ourselves into thought, take a leap of intuition into an idea that refuses to be coherently defined, accepting incompleteness (as every user of language eventually does). But sometimes, we yank the tail from the snakes’ mouth, and in that moment, the snake articulates something profound, birthing a new proverbial ouroboros, and the cycle of inquiry begins again in our new understanding. We reify and refine our understandings when we get serious about how we speak, describe, frame, understand, interpret, think and act (see also the hermeneutic circle).

[3] For all of the limitations of reductive analysis, Analytical Philosophy’s specialty lies here in formalising language in such judgements very effectively. However, the range and scope of such analysis has many limits – see WonderLand for more on an exploration of such limits and who to correctly compensate for them.

[4] For more on how Surrealsim is integrated into everyone’s everyday life, see inoumena’s post here; and for those who wish to engage more with the qualitatively surreal features of experience, see further inoumena surrealist poetry, collages and graphic art.

[5] I was shocked to find such an analogy in an oxford very short introduction to Philosophy. For the very opposite of such a combative framing see R Goldstien’s Plato & the Googleplex: why philosophy won’t go away.

[6] For more on the significance of our relational-being over rational-being, look out for Contralytic Journal - an interdisciplinary philosophy journal, set on encouraging new philosophical practices.


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