9 Feb 2013
To be an adventurer
We have seen earlier that the most difficult question in philosophy, the what it is like to be question of subjective experience (Thomas Nagel), the explanatory gap (Joseph Levine) and the hard problem of consciousness (David Chalmers), is connected to the most obvious things in everyday life: to ordinary things such as watching films and going to the cinema. By watching films or reading books about the life of a certain person, we can get a glimpse of what it is like to be that person, because we can experience directly what it is like to be in a certain situation or environment. Why hasn’t this been noticed clearly before? Maybe philosophers don’t do what ordinary people do, like going to the cinema for example. Or people who go to the cinema do not think about deep philosophical questions. Or maybe it is just too obvious?
However, while philosophers continue to ponder over deep philosophical questions, technological progress goes ahead and enables people to witness extraordinary things never seen before. Modern versatile compact cameras that can be attached to helmets allow observers to immerse themselves in the world of the actor. They show what it is like to be someone in every detail. Of course we don’t want to know what it is like to be a loser or a coward (although that can be funny, too). We want to see what it is like to live the exciting life of a hero, athlete or adventurer.
This video for example, which is an ad for the GoPro camera, shows adventurers in various extreme sports. Suddenly, it seems very easy to see what it is like to fly down a mountain, to have a Kayak aventure, to be a surfer spending your day at the beach, to be a ski champion, to meet a white shark during diving, to take part in an ocean race or even to swim with dolphins. All you have to do is watch a short film. We can experience flying, diving, racing, surfing, etc. in high resolution while sitting on a comfortable couch at home.
These short clips are useful to understand the excitement and the arousal which can be experienced during sports in spectacular and splendid surroundings. They reveal what it means to be a sportsman in extreme and extraordinary environments. To understand more complex emotions which involve the self, like anger, fear, pride and gratitude, it is necessary to follow the individual on a longer path. If we do this, we begin to understand what it is like to be this specific individual person. The principle is simple: we can understand and reproduce path-dependent behavior if we follow the path that led to this behavior – which is why the CV of a person is so important for the human resources department. The deeper we immerse into the history of the person, the better we understand the behavior.
For example if we want to understand what is was to be an outlaw in the adventurous wild West, say Billy the Kid, it is helpful to take a look at his story. If we read a book or to view a film about the life of Billy the Kid, we learn that he had no parents and no home, and was more or less a fugitive. He began to steal because he had nothing to eat. Later he rustled cattle to make a living. He lived in a lawless time of the wild West, surrounded by other outlaws, gunmen and cowboys, and participated in the Lincoln County War. Like other soldiers in wars, he killed people because he was scared that they would kill him. When he was in prison and killed two guards in a jailbreak, he was acting out of fear, since he should be hanged. Viewed in this way, even the life of a legend becomes less mysterious, but still remains fascinating.