"Being in the World" Documentary

Last night I watched a fantastic philosophy documentary called "Being in the World" by Tao Ruspoli (and inspired by Hubert Dreyfus).

I've been on a learning kick lately. Our environment is highly structured to effortlessly push us entertainment (breaking news, gossip, pop culture) but we have to put in our own work to make learning just as seamlessly accessible. With that in mind, I recently created a playlist on YouTube of documentaries and lectures.

Also, I discovered the Libby app which allows you to freely check out ebooks and audiobooks where ever you are (using your library card).

Finally, I re-discovered Kanopy which lets you use your library card to freely stream top notch cinema and documentaries. This includes much of the Criterion Collection and I was also personally thrilled to see a huge selection of Iranian Cinema (which I highly recommend checking out if you enjoy serious film).

But I wanted to say a little about "Being in the World" because I think it has a relevant discussion for our current times. Here's what it says in my layman view.

The documentary largely centers around the philosophy of Heidegger who had a contrarian view of Being. The traditional western philosophy view initiated by Plato starts with rationality. This view gives primacy to logic, rules, and ideas. We as humans must strive to access these abstract truths. We shouldn't get caught up in the material world as its largely illusion – truth is in pure thought and ideas. Much of our history from the rise of Christianity to the Enlightenment and up to our Modern technological world is driven by this way of viewing existence.

Heidegger, on the other-hand, takes what I'd call a craftsman perspective. For him, the details matter. The particulars of our everyday experience, the way we work with objects in the world and gain mastery over certain skills; these are reality. Abstraction is the illusion and removes the important details that make up your experience. Throughout the documentary you get a grounded sense for this by meeting various craftspeople from cooks to musicians to carpenters and learning about their mode of living.

Leah Chase, called the "Queen of Creole Cuisine", summed up this perspective well. She talked about how she freely gives away her recipes and people question her all the time about this, as if she's giving away all her skills. But to her a recipe never captures the essence of cooking. To be a cook is to deal with the particulars, the specifics of your cooking tools and your ingredients. So someone with her same recipe could never prepare food similar to her. There is experience that comes from doing that can never be transmitted simply by reading and understanding rules.

Finally, I should note that Hubert Dreyfus' acclaim largely comes from using this sort of reasoning back in the 60s and 70s to argue why Artificial Intelligence is impossible. Back then much of the tech community believed we were on the precipice of unlocking general AI. Dreyfus ended up being right in that age as nothing approaching general AI was achieved. Right now we are again in an age of optimism around AI. While I'm still undecided on what's exactly possible, I think watching this documentary is very relevant as it gives you a necessary counter-perspective on the current zeitgeist.

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