Upsetting Settled Minds

By Gary Z McGee



“The business of philosophy is to teach man to live in uncertainty. Not to reassure him, but to upset him.” ~Lev Shestov


A settled mindset is a trap. A trapped mind is a mind that believes rather than thinks. Inside the trap, the believing mind reinforces its beliefs through extreme bias, circular reasoning, lack of imagination, and cognitive dissonance. And then it creates ideologies divorced from reality to reinforce it all.


The only way out of the trap is to upset the settled mind. To plant seeds of doubt in the rigid soil of certitude. To sow a little uncertainty so that we may reap a more open-minded perspective.


That’s where self-inflicted philosophy comes in.


Philosophy should serve as a chisel for the hardened beliefs within us. The best philosophy hurts in a pleasing way. It’s existentially masochistic. It’s painfully transcendent. It cuts. But a resilience is born. A scar forms that creates a robustness tantamount to antifragility.


From this antifragile flexibility, we are able to stay ahead of the curve. Bias is tampered. Circular reasoning is straightened. Imagination is reignited. Cognitive dissonance is curtailed. Ideologies are flattened. The trap opens up, and the mind is free to fly into the Mecca of going Meta.


The double-edged sword:

“There is a kind of quiet violence in philosophy’s work. Philosophical thinking that doesn’t do violence to one’s settled mind is no philosophical thinking at all.” –Rebecca Goldstein


The best philosophy is a double-edged sword. On the one side, Pain is the ultimate teacher. On the other side, Curiosity is the ultimate motivator.


Pain is necessary to keep us aware, to prevent intellectual or spiritual complacency, and to guard against resting on our laurels or becoming stuck in our comfort zone. It keeps us on our toes. It keeps us ahead of the game. It puts mortality into perspective. As Rumi said, “the cure for pain is in the pain.”


Curiosity is necessary to keep us passionate, to maintain imagination and creativity, and to allow awe and astonishment a seat at the table. With curiosity we are at the edge of our seat, eager and willing to explore. Hungry for more. Ready to transcend.


The metaphor of the oyster puts it into perspective. If pain is the grain, then curiosity is the pressure that pressurizes that grain into a pearl (robustness). Curiosity is the inner sharpening stone that sharpens pain into a Philosopher’s Stone. It’s the pressure that transforms demons into diamonds.


Both pain and curiosity must be inflicted upon the self to prevent boredom, existential angst, nihilism, ennui, and meaninglessness.


Philosophers inflict themselves with pain and curiosity so that comfort and meaninglessness don’t overwhelm them. So that certainty doesn’t blind them from possibility. So that reassurance doesn’t lull them into a stupor or a false sense of security. So that nothing is ever settled, and everything is questionable.


Question everything; never settle:

“What I understand of “philosopher”: a terrible explosive in the presence of which everything is in danger.” ~Nietzsche


Through self-inflicted philosophy we free ourselves to be ruthless in our intellection. We free ourselves to be fierce in our reasoning, cutting in our logic, and cunning in our creativity.


Nothing is off the hook for our deep and penetrating inquiry. Everything is put on blast, especially our self. The only sacred cow is a barbecued one—skinned, skewered, and roasted on the fire of our philosophy.


If, as Aristotle said, “it is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it,” then it stands to reason that we should never settle on a belief or a thought. We should question the lot. We should take it all into deep consideration and then surrender it to non-attachment. Because a belief, and even an accepted thought, can inadvertently become a sacred cow.


And the only place for a sacred cow is over the fire of philosophy. Where we can cook it into something digestible, perhaps, but never acceptable. Into something we can process and then crap out into compost for next-level growth.


Therefore, we learn, we unlearn, and we relearn. We rinse and repeat. We never settle. Self-inflicted philosophy is never complete. It is only ever in process. The journey is always the thing.


Create your own momentum:

“The philosopher is not a person who wears no mask, but one who knows how to play with a number of masks, skillfully shifting from wearing one to wearing another, as circumstances demand. To be a philosopher is precisely not to be a person who never deviates from a single doctrine but to have a history of change. A philosopher is not someone who will ‘get to the bottom of things once and for all’ but someone who will be able to see things in the world from a variety of different points of view or perspectives at the same time without getting confused.” ~Raymond Geuss


A good philosopher creates a scaffold of knowledge, a self-apprenticeship. The foundation of this scaffold is curiosity. As Joseph Campbell said, “follow your bliss.” When you follow your bliss, passion opens up a path of self-propelled sufficiency. Curiosity becomes an engine, a driving force, a forward impetus.


What follows curiosity is courage, upon which strength is self-actualized. One then builds audacity on top of strength to come up with greater strength. If audacity is the skin and strength is the muscle, then courage is the bones, and curiosity is the marrow.


Put it all together and you have a self-propelled force of nature: a self-inflicted philosopher. A philosopher who is free to do whatever it takes to keep Truth from being hijacked by zealots. A philosopher who is free to cut with the double-edged sword in one hand and the question-mark sword in the other. A philosopher who is free to tear apart the illusion of the self and rip to shreds delusions of perception. A philosopher who is free to don, discard, and burn all masks.


Indeed. As Simon Critchley said, “Nurtured in freedom and taking their time, there is something dreadfully uncanny about philosophers, something either monstrous or godlike, or, indeed, both at once.” So it goes.


The self must be interrogated to remain free. It must be ruthlessly questioned. It must be unlayered, unfolded, unbounded. It must not be allowed to atrophy, to stagnate, to rest upon its laurels, or to revel in its certitude. For the self is the pivot of the universe. The perception of which affects the human understanding of Truth.


A self-inflicted philosopher self-inflicts precisely to prevent Truth from being tainted by misconception. And mankind—fallible, hypocritical, and prone to mistakes—is forever misconceiving. So as not to allow man’s misconceptions to become settled, certain, or sacrosanct, the self-inflicted philosopher forever combats it by unsettling settled minds, planting minefields in the mind field, and barbequing all sacred cows. To include, especially, the self.


Image source:

A Million Little Thoughts by Kavan the Kid


About the Author:

Gary Z McGee, a former Navy Intelligence Specialist turned philosopher, is the author of Birthday Suit of God and The Looking Glass Man. His works are inspired by the great philosophers of the ages and his wide-awake view of the modern world.

This article (Upsetting Settled Minds) was originally created and published by Self-inflicted Philosophy and is printed here under a Creative Commons license with attribution to Gary Z McGee and It may be re-posted freely with proper attribution, author bio, and this statement of copyright.


©2018 by Self-inflicted Philosophy.


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