Focus on the Humanities, Ecology, Justice, Innovation, and Peace. But what keeps going wrong?

Welcome!

This website brings a philosophical perspective to current events and trends. What are the visions we have for our collective future? How do we balance humanity with technological progress? What is humanity in the first place? What do we mean by “nature,” and how do we relate to the nature around us, as well as to our own nature? I created this website to bring together different interests, reflect on my own traditions, and pursue these big questions. I am a psychotherapist, and I teach philosophy in the Bay Area of San Francisco. I grew up in Bavaria, Germany.

Wisdom Crackers

You can find deep insight in strange places. The following quotes are randomly collected from various traditions; if you prefer Asian wisdom, I suggest you check out this collection of Chinese proverbs. I like short sentences that are easy to remember. They should contain rich meanings: fortune cookies for intellectuals. Death and Destruction are never satisfied, and neither are the eyes of humans. Proverbs, 27:20 The best way to do something is to do it. Joseph Eagle I know not with what weapons World War Ill will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones....

Scientific Assumptions

For a long time, science has operated on the assumption that nature is ruled by causality. What this means, however, is by no means clear to philosophers, and has become a major philosophical debate during the 20th century. Wittgenstein is one of the more prominent skeptics. He argues in the Tractatus that when we scientifically explain something, we try to establish links between one event and another. But are the different states of the world really linked at all? Furthermore, how recognizable are these links, if they existed? Consider the Gambler’s fallacy: People expect certain outcomes based on past events,...

Holidays in the Bay Area

The holiday season starts with Thanksgiving (end of November) and lasts throughout December. It includes Hannukah,  the Winter solstice, Kwanzaa, Christmas, as well as a few other memorable events, like our tribute to consumerism, Black Friday. This year was extreme: The worst wildfire season in California’s history killed many people and filled the Bay Area with fire smoke for days. It ended a few days before Thanksgiving with the start of the rainy season. The holiday season here is rich with events like open art studios, neighborhood walks, concerts, markets, and Christmas lights. We are experiencing an explosion in development: new construction,...

Challenges of the Anthropocene

This paper draws on early twentieth-century philosophical anthropology as well as cognitive science and evolutionary anthropology to examine how humans compensated for their biological under-determination by becoming second-natured, empathetic, cooperative, symbol-using creatures. Examining the capacities for cooperation that emerged in our evolutionary history may help clarify our thinking about contemporary problems that require collective decisions.

Madness and Civilization, Revisited

“For the madness of men is a divine spectacle: In fact, could one make observations from the Moon, as did Menippus, considering the numberless agitations of the Earth, one would think one saw a swarm of flies or gnats fighting among themselves, struggling and laying traps, stealing from one another, playing, gambling, falling, and dying, and one would not believe the troubles, the tragedies that were produced by such a minute animalcule destined to perish so shortly.”  ― Michel Foucault, Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason. 1961. America struggles with mental health: we are in the...

The History of South East Asia

Southeast Asia is an extremely diverse region on Earth. It consists of many large and small ecological areas. It has a staggering variety of economic, social, and cultural niches. Hundreds of ethnic groups and languages coexist in the space between the two large cultural neighbors, India and China. Over the centuries, the region has been colonized by the Europeans, and in the aftermath, it has developed its independence with a strong underlying sense of unity. unity,

South East Asia

I became interested in South East Asia in recent years, and I traveled through the region during the summer of 2017. I live in the Bay Area of California,  which is increasingly influenced not only by China, but also by Vietnam, the Philippines, and Thailand. America’s identity is deeply intertwined with Asia: The American defeat in the Vietnam war changed America’s political consciousness, and from then on, the US was perceived as the “bad” superpower by many people in the rest of the world. South‐East Asia is largely the product of external cultural influences. It was formed in the intersection...

Nature, Ecology, and the Environment

There is no “original” state in nature, no nature-in-itself in the sense that a fixed set of characteristics holds true, like the law of gravity, always and everywhere. Nature resembles less a law than a story. And the story is not over. Thus to inquire of nature is to inquire of time, of circumstance and of contingency. What was natural three billion years ago – an empire of anaerobic bacteria – would strike most of us as decidedly unnatural today. Ecology The word originates from the Greek root oikos, “at home”, and *ology, “the study of something.” Haeckle, (1870), defined...

World Urbanization Trends

“The city allows you to become yourself by making a stranger of you.” We are experiencing a historical transition – human civilization will more and more coalesce into very large urban centers. Cities are the manifestation of the cultural, economic and social acceleration that we have experienced in the last century. In 1950 about 2/3 of the population worldwide lived in rural areas, and 1/3 in urban settlements. By 2050, we will roughly see the reverse distribution, with more than 6 billion people living in the crowded environment of urbanized areas.

Can Ethics be the First Philosophy?

Emmanuel Levinas is a unique philosopher in the 20th century. He redefines traditional philosophy by radically re-thinking it from the point of view of justice, which in his understanding originates in the encounter with the other. For Aristotle, the “first philosophy” is metaphysics: what is the meaning of the verb “to be.” This leads to a whole system of ontology that serves as the background to 2500 years of metaphysical thought.
Levinas suggests a radical turn. “This is the question of the meaning of being: not the ontology of the understanding of that extraordinary verb, but the ethics of its justice. The question ‘par excellence’ or the question of philosophy. Not ‘Why being rather than nothing?’, but how being justifies itself.”

Shrump II: Madness, Fascism, and Resistance.

Silence from the country’s mental health organizations has been due to a self-imposed rule about evaluating public figures. But this silence has resulted in a failure to lend our expertise to worried journalists and members of Congress at this critical time. We fear that too much is at stake to be silent any longer… We believe that the grave emotional instability indicated by Mr. Trump’s speech and actions makes him incapable of serving safely as president.

Murderous Rage: The Story of Achilles

Achilles, the hero of the Iliad, is one of the most famous Greeks: He is the exemplary warrior who leads the Greeks to victory against Troy, but he is also emotionally unbalanced. He falls in love, he is easily angered, he becomes passive-aggressive, and finally he is so enraged that he goes on a killing spree. Is it his anger that makes him a great warrior, or is he a victim of his own emotions? Should we call a man who is engulfed in rage “a hero?” The emotions of Achilles are at the center of the story in the Iliad. What...

Shrump I: Post-Democracy in America?

Before I get started, let’s introduce a new term that helps us to appreciate the differences between words, their meaning, and reality itself. You may wonder what a “shrump” is. If you google it you will find that the definition is still in flux, and ranges from a “pickled shrimp” to a twitter hashtag, and to what I am suggesting here, namely a bump in the forest floor. Look at the picture on the left. It’s only a shrump if there is a mushroom underneath. The most intriguing aspect of this kind of object is that you can’t know what it is until you look...

US Election 2016: How to lose a Democracy.

Since election day a week ago, people have been protesting every night in the Bay Area and across the United States. I went to the demonstration yesterday, and want to share some impressions and photos. This family-friendly event on Sunday afternoon was called “Hands around Lake Merritt.” The goal was to bring out enough people to surround Lake Merritt, in the middle of Oakland, with a human chain. The lake has a loop of about 3.5 miles, and the event was announced through Facebook and Twitter. The organizers calculated that they needed around 4000 people. Many more showed up –...

God bless America!

You wake up and realize that a dystopian vision has become reality: America just became Trump University. There is no termination clause in the contract, and the sale is final. What went wrong? Hillary won in terms of absolute numbers, but lost the election. She received 48% against his 46.5%, or around 3 million votes more than Trump, out of 120 million votes cast. This is a replay of Gore versus Bush in the year 2000, when Gore won the vote count, but Bush won the Presidency due to the Electoral College system. Americans love their Constitution, but it has some serious flaws: The...

Cicero

I recently added some texts from the ancient Roman politician and philosopher Cicero (106 – 43 BC) to this blog. Cicero rose to the highest political offices in Rome, and he defended the Roman Republic, a limited version of democracy within an oligarchy, against various attempts by individuals and small groups to usurp power. He saw the rise of Caesar, and was present at his assassination in the Senate, but he was not one of conspirators. In the volatile political situation after Caesars’ death, he gave speeches in which he tried to defend the Senate and the Republican System against the revenge of Mark Antony,...

Sunset over the Bay Area

“To leave out beautiful sunsets is the secret of good taste.” (Dejan Stojanovic.) Well, occasionally we fail. A spontaneous walk in the evening, without much expectation, and suddenly, there it was, this sunset over the Bay Area, viewed from Tilden Park. In California we are fortunate enough to have the Ocean in the West, which means that the sun sinks into the ocean, if you are living near the coast.  We can watch beautiful sunsets every day,  and therefore we don’t value them enough. If I missed one today, I can watch another one tomorrow. They are guaranteed for the rest of my life. I took the following photos from...

Pacific Gardens

This is part two of my travel report through the Pacific Northwest. One of my goals for this trip was to visit several gardens. The climate along the coast of California, Oregon, and Washington is mediterranean: warm, sunny, with mild winters, and plenty of moist air from the ocean – in other words, the region is ideal for gardening! In this post I will share some pictures, and will briefly describe some of the gardens I visited. About Gardens Gardens are among the most interesting places in the world. They mediate our relationship with nature, and they are expressions of culture and human...

Landscapes in the Pacific Northwest

It’s about a thousand miles to drive on Highway 1 from San Francisco to Port Angeles, the northern-most town that connects the US and Canada. The drive along the ocean is beautiful, through vast coastal landscapes and ancient forests. One can find some of the tallest and oldest trees in the world along this remote coastline, small fishing towns, Indian reservations, and several world-famous National Parks. I travelled the whole distance during this summer, and I want to share some of the pictures below. Links to more extensive photo pages are at the bottom.  About the Region The Pacific North West includes Northern California, Oregon, Washington State, and the...

Eastern Europe

I spent some time during the summer of 2015 traveling through Eastern Europe. It has changed dramatically since 1991, the year in which the Sowjet Union dissolved and the Warsaw Pact ended. Former Czechoslovakia became two countries, and former Yugoslavia fragmented in 1991/1992 into six states (Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Croatia, and Slovenia). This led to several wars in the territory of former Yugoslavia, which resulted in the deaths of approximately 140,000 people. Today, the region is again in the spotlight, because it is a transit hub for many refuges from the Syrian war and the unrest in the Middle East. Where is Eastern Europe today,...