Attention is an art form. Perception is a skill.
June 15, 2019 9:12 AM   Subscribe

The Side View is about "the knowledge and intuition we use to navigate the world. It’s about how our minds meet the world, but it’s also about how our minds, when trained in the right way, change how we perceive what’s around us and within us. In other words, The Side View is about how we become skillful perceivers and doers, people who know, in the moment, the right details to attend to and the right actions to take. But The Side View isn’t just about expertise or getting more efficient at things; it’s about learning how to deepen our engagement with a complex world..."
... The idea is that we can develop new ways of making sense of things, ways that change what we’re able to do in the world. From our perspective, sense-making is its own kind of craft, and the medium of this craft isn’t paint or stone or wood, but your own perception. Perception on this view is a skill you can shape through practice. We see our ability to pay attention to things as an art of its own. It’s an art of looking at things in a certain way.

The Side View is also "an independent publisher and media environment that integrates theory and practice, while running parallel to academic and public conversations... We feature a rotating cast of philosophers, athletes, artists, designers, meditators, scientists, and engineers based in the SF Bay Area and beyond."

I've found TSV's essays and podcasts to be some of the most interesting and enjoyable I've encountered in a long time, and it's especially impressive and convenient to find them all under the same roof.

This piece by TSV founder and editor Adam Robbert (@AE_Robbert) introduces the themes of TSV:

The Side View: Introduction to the Series
This introduction to the series has two parts. In the first section, I summarize the vision behind The Side View (TSV) as a project, and I present the contributors to this issue. The longer second half offers a comprehensive look at the philosophy that inspires and informs TSV. If you’re not yet familiar with our work, this introduction will serve as a good starting point, and if you don’t happen to be steeped in philosophy and its history, the shorter summary below will do just fine as a preparatory statement of our mission—the second half simply expands in more detailed terms on those same ideas.
The name of TSV comes from a passage from German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk's book The Art of Philosophy (quoted from the introduction linked above):
Sloterdijk suggests that when we focus on the practices that create scientists, artists, and philosophers, rather than on their finished works alone, we gain a new way of reading history, and of understanding how such works are produced. In other words, Sloterdijk offers a history of the practices that create artists, scientists, and philosophers to begin with. It’s a history of self- making techniques. Here is Sloterdijk on his approach:
Just as the history of science usually presumes that the scientists who do their disciplines already exist, the history of art has assumed since time immemorial that artists are the natural protagonists of the business that produces works of art, and that these players have always existed as well. What would happen if we rotated the conceptual stage ninety degrees in both cases? What would happen if we observed artists in their efforts to become artists in the first place? We could then see every phenomenon on this field more or less from a side view and, alongside the familiar history of art as a history of completed works, we could obtain a history of the training that made it possible to do art and the ascetism that shaped artists.
This piece by Roope Kaaronen is a good example of the kind of writing found on TSV:

Adam Robbert: "This is one of my favorite essays I've published through @TheSideViewCo so far. @RoopeKaaronen links together phenomenology, predictive processing, ecological rationality, and heuristics in his account of perception and mushroom foraging. Read it here:"

Roope Kaaronen (@RoopeKaaronen): The Art of Mushroom Foraging: A Phenomenological Inquiry. Mushroom foraging is an art of active perception that deserves to be studied with patience, taught with rigor, and passed on to future generations with contagious enthusiasm.
This essay is an inquiry into the perceptual and cognitive qualities of mushroom foraging. Mushrooming is a delicate and phenomenologically rich practice, one which infuses elegant sensory organization with simple rules of thumb, or heuristics. In Southern Finland, where I am from, it is also one of the final frontiers of traditional knowledge and practice—a bastion for practical connection with nature. Mushroom foraging is an art of active perception that deserves to be studied with patience, taught with rigor, and passed onto future generations with contagious enthusiasm. What follows is a phenomenological account of my own foraging experiences.
TSV Podcast: TSV Episode 5: Roope Kaaronen

After a short hiatus, TSV has started posting new material again. Here are the three latest TSV pieces:

Heidi Gustafson: Dust to Dust: A Geology of Color. Metals and pigments are co-directors of our creative, evolutionary process.
I’m a recovering philosopher who forages and crushes rock for a living. I work as a hermitic artist in rural Washington. Most of my days are spent investigating the metamorphic life of pigments, and the agency they have in human and planetary processes.

Why? For one thing, art is chock-full of sediment and geological material, but as it turns out, how we experience art—and how we form aesthetic experience itself—also grounds our biological capabilities, informing and transforming our very being. In other words, pigments are our co-evolutionary partners and affect our everyday lives.

I want to give a personal account of how pigments impact our lives through a practice I call aesthetic reception. There’s a lot of ground to cover. First, what are pigments? What are they for? Why search for them? Unlike other gathering, gleaning, or tracking practices, such as mushroom foraging, there isn’t a commonly understood knowledge of foraging for “pigments,” nor is there a distinct awareness of what pigments do.

Peter Sjöstedt-H (@PeterSjostedtH): Why I am not a Physicalist: Four Reasons for Rejecting the Faith. Questioning the assumptions of physicalism opens one up to new worlds of possibility.
It is often expected that a position be defined before it be rejected. In the case of physicalism, however, a reason for rejecting the position is the fact that it cannot be properly defined. This ambiguity in the meaning of “physicalism” is brought out through what is known as Hempel’s Dilemma, named after its formulation by philosopher Carl G. Hempel,[1] though it was in fact formulated earlier by Herbert Feigl.[2] The dilemma: it seems that the meaning of physicalism can be grasped through either of two horns. The first horn is exclusive belief in the phenomena of current physics, such as matter-energy, space-time, the fundamental interactions, and so on. The problem herewith is that such a belief is highly unlikely to be true. This is in part because we can witness the constant change of physics through history, realizing that our current state of understanding is but a moment within this history and thus, by pessimistic induction,[3] we realize that physics is likely to continue changing. Secondly, as is well known, the current state of physics cannot be final due, in particular, to the inconsistency between general relativity and quantum mechanics. Thirdly, as will be seen below, the role of the mind in current physics is undetermined.

Thus a self-proclaimed physicalist might therefore instead embrace the second horn of the dilemma: belief in the phenomena of a future, ideal physics. Yet there are two chief problems with this alternative. Firstly, how could one believe in physicalism if one did not know what that was? One may almost as well profess one’s adamant belief in drallewertism. Secondly, it may turn out that a future physics would include mentality amongst its fundamental elements. But because physicalism, as material monism, is as such opposed to dualism (one where mind and matter are equally fundamental), such a possibility would seem to contradict the current understanding of physicalism. As a result of this implication, many self-proclaimed physicalists add a “no-fundamental-mentality” condition to the meaning of physicalism to preclude such a possibility.[4] However, one cannot determine the future direction of physics, thus physicalism, by advancing ad hoc exclusionary clauses to suit one’s current preferences. It may well be that a future physics will be contrary to “physicalism,” as understood in such current exclusionary terms.

Where does Hempel’s Dilemma leave us?

It seems one cannot accept physicalism according to the first horn, nor can one accept it according to the second. This disposes us to a current position of agnosticism towards physicalism: it is not rational to place one’s belief in a position that is either wrong or unknown.
TSV Podcast: TSV Episode 6: Peter Sjöstedt-H

(Previous post: Peter Sjöstedt-H on Mind, Panpsychism, Philosophy and Psychedelics)

Brittany Polat (@brittanypolat): On Stoic Transcendence: Stoic transcendence is an active exercise that takes us to a new level of understanding about the world.
Few practicing Stoics think of Stoicism as a transcendent way of life. Most of us focus on striving for virtue, using our rationality, and trying to find contentment and meaning in our lives. We see Stoicism as a “therapy of the passions,” as a route to mental freedom, or as a useful way of dealing with adversity. Stoicism is all these things, of course, but it is also something more. Stoic philosophy offers a way of getting outside ourselves and getting over ourselves, of overcoming our egotism to see the world from a broader, universal perspective. Wisdom and contentment are almost impossible if we continue to see the world through the lens of our own narrow interests. By rising above our own small selves and cultivating a mindset of transcendence, we learn to see the world as it really is, and as a result we reach a more profound level of wisdom and virtue.

If you’ve ever tried to live a philosophical life, Stoic or otherwise, you’ve probably noticed how difficult it is. As the ancients recognized, it’s one thing to talk about being virtuous and a different thing entirely to live virtuously. It would be nice if we could decide one day that virtue is the only true good, and let the rest of our thoughts and actions flow simply and logically from this very rational decision. But the truth is, humans aren’t put together this way. We have to remind ourselves to live up to our ideals. We fail, and then we have to try even harder. Practicing virtue sometimes seems like a constant exercise in willpower.

What I’ve found, in my personal efforts toward attaining virtue, is that true progress comes not from gaining more willpower, but from changing your perspective of the world. The French philosopher and historian of philosophy Pierre Hadot suggests—and my own experience agrees—that living philosophically does not merely entail a rational understanding of philosophical principles. Living philosophically also requires seeing the world in a different way. It is this new way of seeing, this inner transformation, that allows us to truly inhabit a philosophical way of life.

The ancient spiritual exercises that Hadot identified, such as living in the present moment and attaining a view from above, are designed to help us develop this new way of seeing. These exercises are not an end in themselves. They are a means of cultivating the right outlook on life. This “cosmic consciousness” (Hadot’s term) or “cosmic connectedness” (A. A. Long’s term) is essential to the everyday ethical practice of Stoicism. I prefer to call this practice transcendence because it’s essentially about rising above your own small self to understand the big picture of the world around you. Transcendence is a term I can relate to and envision myself practicing. But I want to emphasize that this is not about transcending to some spiritual realm, but about metaphorically getting outside yourself.

Rational transcendence is woven into the very fabric of Stoic philosophy, which encourages us to leave behind our self-centered preoccupations in favor of a rational, universal perspective. Stoic ethics, physics, and logic all demand that we get outside ourselves and see things as they really are. What else is Marcus Aurelius doing in his Meditations than reminding himself to see things as they really are? What else is Epictetus doing in his lectures than reminding his students to see things as they really are? In order to see things as they really are, we must be able to surpass our personal egotism to “see events from the perspective of what they mean for the universe.”[1] When we bear patiently with others because we see them as members of the same body as ourselves, we are practicing transcendence. When we view a disappointing event from the point of view of the cosmos—and thereby perceive that it’s not so disappointing after all—we are practicing transcendence.

Stoic transcendence is an active exercise that takes us to a new level of understanding about the world. Below we will explore what Stoic transcendence is (and isn’t) and its relationship to Stoic physics and ethics.
(Related post: On Stoicism)

TSV recently released their first publication: The Side View Journal Vol. 1 No. 1

Previous post featuring a TSV essay: A brief history of secular mindfulness meditation in the West
posted by homunculus (24 comments total) 52 users marked this as a favorite
The piece in the previous post is by David Collins (@bodhidave3), who was also on the TSV podcast: TSV Episode 7. I haven't gotten around to that one yet. But he was also recently on the Both And podcast with Jason Snyder (@cognazor, who wrote the TSV piece linked above by "meditators") and Jared Janes (@JaredJanes) which I did listen to, and they had a fascinating conversation about meditation, the jhanas, neuroscience, "The Cloud of Unknowing" and Ravel's "Bolero." If you're interested in any of those things, check it out: Both And #11: Simply Awake with David Collins
posted by homunculus at 9:16 AM on June 15 [1 favorite]

Incredible post, thank you!
posted by schadenfrau at 10:18 AM on June 15 [2 favorites]

You are quite welcome. *bows*
posted by homunculus at 10:23 AM on June 15 [2 favorites]

Adam Robbert: On Contemplative Philosophy
posted by homunculus at 10:24 AM on June 15

" is not rational to place one’s belief in a position that is either wrong or unknown."

Wise words, thoroughly ignored in that weird pigments essay.
posted by thatwhichfalls at 10:32 AM on June 15 [1 favorite]

Taking LSD nudged me toward belief in materialism in philosophy of mind. That ingesting such a small amount of a molecule can produce such breathtaking changes in the character of consciousness! It's remarkable. Huxley-style arguments that ingesting drugs alter the physical character of your brain so that it can now perceive more of the non-physical nature of reality always seemed embarrassingly ad hoc to me. Dr. Hoffman's epicycle ride.....
posted by thelonius at 10:35 AM on June 15 [1 favorite]

This publication looks marvelous! Thank you for posting the link here.

I'm excited to dig deep into this rabbit hole. As a co-founder of a recently launched contemplative monastic order, I'm particularly looking forward to reading the articles on contemplative practice, cognition, meditation, mindfulness, foraging, and ecological design.

I wish I'd found something like this back in the days I did my honors undergrad in philosophy. I don't miss academic life, but I sure do miss the in-depth conversations about philosophy.
posted by velvet winter at 12:15 PM on June 15 [6 favorites]

This is a fantastic idea for a magazine. I will likely spend a lot of time with the site, listen to the podcasts, etc. Thank you!
posted by xammerboy at 12:31 PM on June 15 [1 favorite]

velvet winter: "As a co-founder of a recently launched contemplative monastic order"

Your ideas are intriguing to me and I wish to subscribe to your newsletter
posted by chavenet at 2:52 PM on June 15 [4 favorites]

Your ideas are intriguing to me and I wish to subscribe to your newsletter

If you mean that literally, and not just figuratively, feel free to do so! We'll be launching the newsletter for Black Stone Abbey this autumn, if all goes as planned. You can also read our announcement of the newly formed Order on the Polytheist Monastic web discussion forum we launched last month.
posted by velvet winter at 3:49 PM on June 15 [4 favorites]

> Taking LSD nudged me toward belief in materialism in philosophy of mind.

Speaking of (eliminative) materialism: Sean Carroll's Mindscape, Episode 50: Patricia Churchland on Conscience, Morality, and the Brain
posted by homunculus at 7:37 PM on June 15

Here's more info on some of the "rotating cast" featured on TSV and their work, with the pieces I linked to in the OP:

"Philosophers": Matthew T. Segall (@ThouArtThat)

Essay: Why German Idealism Matters: German idealism is an invitation to exercise our freedom of thought and to consider that what at first appears impossible may become necessary.

Podcast: TSV Episode 13: Matthew T. Segall

"Athletes": Michael Tremblay (@_MikeTremblay)

Essay: Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu as a Form of Stoic Askēsis: Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ), a modern grappling martial art, can be one of the best contemporary forms of Stoic askēsis for those wishing to improve themselves.

Podcast: TSV Episode 12: Michael Tremblay

"Artists": Bryan Von Reuter (@NeutronBravery, Bandcamp)

Podcast: TSV Episode 1: Bryan Von Reuter

"Designers": Mark James (@MarkMJames)

Essay: Introducing Ecobehavioral Design: Behavior change can be difficult to achieve, and just trying can quickly become the work of the weary. However, much of the struggle arises from how we conceive what is changing.

"Meditators": Jason Snyder (@cognazor)

Essay: Decentralizing Cognition: Integrating Mindfulness and Self-Inquiry. The primary goal of meditation is to temporarily suspend the sense that there is a self riding around in the head who is somehow separate from the rest of the body and the world. Why would somebody want to do this?

"Scientists": Abeba Birhane (@Abebab)

Podcast: TSV Episode 10: Abeba Birhane

"Engineers": Bonnitta Roy (@bonnittaroy, Medium)

Podcast: TSV Episode 9: Bonnitta Roy
posted by homunculus at 1:31 AM on June 16

I should have included descriptions for the podcasts of the ones which don't have an essay, so here they are:

Bryan Von Reuter (Twitter: @NeutronBravery, Von Reuter on Bandcamp.) Podcast: TSV Episode 1: Bryan Von Reuter
Bryan Von Reuter is a forensic media examiner, and an interdisciplinary artist. He lives and works in the San Francisco Bay Area. In his forensic practice, he answers questions about recorded evidence, investigating what can be known about an event by determining what information can be learned by the media left in its wake. In his artistic practice, he asks questions about wholeness, density, confusion, velocity, and states of being in the information age. His visual art, abstract music, and audiovisual installations investigate ways to understand those unseen facets that underly reality, and our failure to perceive them with our senses.

We talk about sound engineering, digital forensics, textured ambient soundscapes, David Lynch's films and his practice of transcendental meditation, music as a tool for perceiving new states and achieving emotional access, nostalgia, and the mysteries of being at its smallest and largest scale.
Abeba Birhane (Twitter: @Abebab.) Podcast: TSV Episode 10: Abeba Birhane
My guest today is Abeba Birhane. Abeba is pursuing a PhD in Cognitive Science at University College Dublin. Her interdisciplinary research, which includes embodied cognition, digital technology, and critical data science, explores the relationships between individuals, society, and technology. She is a contributor to Aeon Magazine and blogs regularly about cognition, AI, ethics, and data science.

In this podcast, Abeba and I talked about automated predictive systems in law, criminal justice, and healthcare, and we explored some of the problems we have to think through when it comes to navigating a world where we’re increasingly tracked, monitored, and surveilled. Abeba’s research in cognitive science and the philosophy of mind, on the one hand, and the ethics and social implications of technology, on the other, puts her in a unique position of being able to address some of these questions head on.
Bonnitta Roy (Twitter: @bonnittaroy, Roy on Medium.) Podcast: TSV Episode 9: Bonnitta Roy
My guest today is Bonnitta Roy. Bonnitta is Founder of Alderlore Insight Center and Founding Associate of APP Associates, International. She is an author and international presenter on post-formal learning and thinking, and the new sciences of complexity. She teaches a Master’s course in consciousness studies at The Graduate Institute, and is an associate editor of Integral Review.

We talked about some of the different ways philosophers, scientists, and spiritual practitioners throughout history have tried to describe perception and experience. Bonnitta is especially helpful in this regard in that she’s able to draw on both Eastern and Western sources of thinking in this area, which allowed us to explore some of the unique shapes this conversation started to take, particularly in modern Western societies.

Along these lines, we explored how Westerners came to view themselves as separate observers of the natural world, and we talked about how things like embodiment and physical action were lost in this picture of perception, and how we might reclaim them today. I think you’ll be particularly interested in how Bonnitta connects traditional questions of perception and epistemology with things like athletic performance and skilled action.

We also touched on the role that technology, architecture, and narrative have on conditioning our perception and experience in specific ways, and Bonnitta shared with us some of her insights into how we might develop new practices, stories, and spaces to re-train our perception in new directions. We ended the conversation discussing the strengths and weaknesses of postmodernism, and how metaphysics may offer us tools for re-thinking our present moment.
I hope all the info in these last two comments is helpful.
posted by homunculus at 5:05 AM on June 16

Also, Abeba Birhane has been tweeting an excellent ongoing mega-thread about surveillance capitalism on Twitter. Here's the unroll (you might need to 'force a refresh' at the bottom to get it all.) I highly recommend it.
posted by homunculus at 8:59 AM on June 16

Adam Robbert: Float Tanks and Epoché
I’ve been writing recently about epoché as an exercise (or askēsis) of perception. I take epoché in this context to mean something like bracketing or suspending one’s immersion in perception so that one can evaluate the construction of experience from a different angle.

Pierre Hadot describes something like an epoché when he writes about interrupting or intervening in the automatic functioning of what he calls our “inner logos.” Our perception of things, Hadot says, is conditioned by our regular habits and acquaintances with the world around us.


Epoché is something like this kind of interruption. It’s a skill of perception that takes many forms. In other words, there isn’t one kind of epoché but a variety of modes of practice that suspend, interrupt, and defamiliarize sensation. The act creates a space for novelty.


This is the thought I had while in a float tank yesterday: It’s something like a material epoché, a way of bracketing out, to the extent possible, the inflowing rush of external sensory stimulation. It makes space for a reorientation of the inner logos.

The float tank is based around the idea of limiting sensory stimuli, including by reducing the sense of an inside / outside boundary (the floater rests in a tank of salt water maintained at body temperature, reducing the difference between the outside atmosphere and the body).

This is, strictly speaking, a kind of environmental scaffolding for practicing epoché. In such an environment, it grows easier to achieve, at least temporarily, the kind of reordering of the inner logos that Hadot describes as essential to the spiritual exercises of philosophy.
posted by homunculus at 7:30 PM on June 24

◉●○•° @brightabyss: "'When we have brought about synthetic unity in the manifold of intuition – this is when we say that we cognize the object.' - Kant // apprehension as synthetic act, as root of unified experience, and advental agency."

Adam Robbert: Folding the Manifold
I think often about these passages in Kant and how they describe the details of something like phenomenological intentionality. Along these lines, I think of skilled intentionality as a practice of conformation, of training the manifold of perception and intuition to bend in certain ways on purpose.

The Side View’s thesis is based on something like this idea: Practices of conformation, in Kant’s sense of “objects conforming to cognition,” are ways of bending and folding the manifold in certain ways.

posted by homunculus at 7:58 PM on June 24

The latest TSV essay is a response to Brittany Polat's piece on Stoic transcendence (in the OP) by Kai Whiting:

The Stoic God: A Call to Science or Faith? A rational belief in the Stoic god can enhance your connection to and understanding of yourself and the world you inhabit.

Whiting wrote some of the pieces on Stoicism and sustainability in this previous post: Green Stoics: Stoicism, Cosmopolitanism & Environmental Sustainability
posted by homunculus at 6:44 PM on June 30

New podcast: TSV Episode 14: Jeremy Johnson
Jeremy Johnson is an author, editor, and teacher. He founded the new media learning platform Nura Learning and works for Revelore Press. I spoke with Jeremy about the evolution of consciousness, new media and digital technologies, and the work of Jean Gebser, who is the focal point of Jeremy’s new book Seeing Through the World. Gebser’s work on the phenomenology of consciousness and its ongoing mutations will be of interest to anyone trying to make new sense of our emerging planetary and digital cultures.
posted by homunculus at 12:21 PM on July 10

New TSV article by Jacob Given (@JacobNealGiven): Evagrius’s Demons: The world offers resistance, sometimes it even overwhelms us, and we are compelled to theorize in order to regain balance, to find relief.
This essay tracks the dynamics of the demonic in the work of Evagrius of Pontus, a desert Christian monk of the 4th century. To recapitulate the practice of the Evagrian monk in writing, and therefore in ourselves, it will be helpful to review the cosmological theory of Origen, a theologian, philosopher, and biblical exegete of the early church. This recapitulation is not meant to reinforce a crude division between theoria and praktikē. Theory is a subset of practice. The world offers resistance, sometimes it even overwhelms us, and we are compelled to theorize in order to regain balance, to find relief. Truth, as we’ve been told, lies in correspondence, but a fitting correspondence is signaled only when the painful obstinacy of the world dips below a tolerable threshold. This is sense-making.

Theory makes possible a configuration of flows. It opens some avenues and closes others. It invites some energies and banishes others. It actively reconstitutes the life-world. Discursive theorizing is the search for an incantation, a configuration of words and annotations that appease the world for us, that satisfies a demand inherent in the gift that we have received in the world (and in this sense it is an offering), and that gives us the power to act in new capacities, genres, and styles. Theory brings new possibilities into view, it brings new avenues of energetic expenditure within range. As such, the cosmological theory of an Evagrian monk forms the boundaries of what is allowed to occur, of how phenomena are allowed to give themselves, and of how the monk is empowered to act.
posted by homunculus at 12:30 PM on July 11

I forgot to mention that Abeba Birhane (see above) is also the author of this excellent critique of Cartesianism and its legacy from a couple of years ago:

Descartes was wrong: What’s a better way to understand human psychology – ‘I think, therefore I am’ or ‘A person is a person through other persons’?
posted by homunculus at 9:51 AM on July 12

Rhys Cassidy (@rhyscass): "Right now we're computational machines that consume the planet. We need to be living imaginative beings that co-create the affordances that bloom the planet and in that process we bloom also." - ⁦@bonnittaroy⁩ with ⁦@AE_Robbert⁩

The Side View: TSV Episode 9: Bonnitta Roy on Apple podcasts. "Bonnitta is Founder of Alderlore Insight Center and Founding Associate of APP Associates, International. She is an author and international presenter on post-formal learning and thinking, and the new sciences of complexity. She teaches a Master’s course in consciousness studies at The Graduate Institute, and is an associate editor of Integral Review."
posted by homunculus at 4:53 AM on July 14

Adam Robertt: A Christopher Alexander quote thread: “In the 20th century we have passed through a unique period, one in which architecture as a discipline has been in a state that is almost unimaginably bad. Sometimes I think of it as a mass psychosis of unprecedented dimension.”
posted by homunculus at 4:53 AM on July 14

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