The Hard Problem of Blogging about Philosophy

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I have to admit, sitting down to write a blog post about philosophy of mind is daunting. It’s such a specified interest that hits on terms and ideas so deeply entrenched in the philosophy world that trying to make them accessible to the average, curious Internet-user overwhelmed me. We use the words “minds” and “consciousness” all the time, but not in the way philosophers do. We talk about relations and cause and effect, but not in the way philosophers do. Translating philosopher-speak into something more widely understandably oversimplifies and confuses the concepts at the same time.

Nevertheless, I sat down to write an overview of the philosophy of mind to an unknown audience of unknown prior understanding of philosophy. I knew I didn’t want to explain it like philosophers do, but I wasn’t sure how to explain it any other way. Even if I do find different words to explain the concepts, that doesn’t make the ideas themselves any more easily understood. Especially since each era of philosopher comes up with new words for the same meaning and new meanings for the same word.

For example, substance, entity, body, “thing,” object are all meant to refer to the same…thing. But see, already this is getting weird because I’m using the term I aim to define in the definition. Circular reasoning at it’s worst. In conjunction with terms that are almost so basic they don’t describe anything with clarity, philosophers use phrases like x and y are causally related instead of x causes y or  x instantiates a property of instead of simply, x has.

As if matters could get even more frustrating, this oversimplification and over-complexification sitting side by side barely covers up the fact that in four hundred years of study and debate, nothing has been decided upon. Advances in biology, technology, and physics might add a new bone to the pile, but nothing really new in terms of minds has been discovered. So in addition to making these ideas easy to understand, I also have to write my blog in such a way that the readers—if I even have any—stay interested in tossing these nebulous theories around.

I know I’m not the first person to attempt to simplify these ideas, so, lucky me, I can hyperlink to Psychology Today or TEDtalks or smart Youtubers. But will the readers all click on the links? They have to seem like the most interesting or essential links in the world in order to get the average reader to click through, and then the information on those pages has to be fun or easily digestible. In this instance, they aren’t.

The TEDtalk I posted was 25 minutes long. That’s a long time to listen to an ex-hippie Australian slowly, and with many pauses, walk us through philosophy. So I do a quick Google search for something to explain consciousness; I type in “What is consciousness?” a simple answer (or so it would seem). The first hit was a long article from Psychology Today with no pictures and no hyperlinks. It’s essentially an essay slapped on a website. The author of the article, or more likely the designer of the page, didn’t bother to make us of any of the many tools available to bloggers and online journalists that work to grab readers’ attention. They benefit from a very simple and self-explanatory title (What is consciousness?) but make no effort to ensure the reader stays. To be honest, I can’t tell you if the article was well-written, entertaining, or easily understandable because I only had so much time to write this blog and, after realizing how long it was, I clicked away for something “better.”

That’s when I realized just how important attention to visual details are for people writing on the Internet, or for anyone trying to communicate on the web. Search Engines and online news sources, even our social media platforms, put an unending amount of information at the click of a button. Even though we spend an inordinate amount of time scrolling through the web, it would be impossible to keep up with the stream of new content posted and published daily, hourly, by the second.

upworthy headersAnyone hoping to find an audience for their work has stiff competition for readers’ attention. Some sites opt for dramatic headers to get you to click the link—my least favorite method, because the titles generally hyperbolize the content and mislead the reader. Others have enticing thumbnail pictures like the one to the left, for people to share on Facebook. For all purposes, videos, pictures, and personable voices make the average reader more likely to spend time on the site or article. On personal sites, the competition is more fierce, more personal. People go through their days with half an eye on gems that would make popular Facebook posts, Instagram photos, tweets, tumblr posts, Pinterest pins, and more. The moreHook 'Em shebang your voice or photo has online the more attention and adoration you will get. Who doesn’t want that?

Of course, if you’re not necessarily a person who shares themselves easily, takes lots of photos, cares about their appearance, or hones their wit on the daily, then you aren’t going to bask in as much social media glory as some others. So we make ourselves that fun, fabulous, sassy person—we create an online persona to get more likes, shares, and comments. We write stylishly, wittily, poetically on our professional blog sites. News sources, social issue groups, advertisers, everyone develops an online voice that combines diction, syntax, media, and visual design to demand that people pay attention.

We focus so much on grabbing people’s attention that it becomes second nature, this online voice that people like so much. So now I know how to blog about philosophy of the mind. I need to stop thinking like a weed-smoking, navel-gazing intellectual of the 1600s and start thinking like an attention-hungry, cynical intellectual of the 2000s. I need to write like I speak—no, ten times funnier, smarter, and cooler than I speak, because that’s the kind of image I can create for myself on the web. That’s the kind of person that the average online reader would listen to. Kind of like this guy does–bridging the gap between science and entertainment with brightly designed and easily digested media:

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