Essay by Asger Trier Kjær
Illustration by Emma Von Skov
Look through your blinkers
There is no paradox of choice. No adolescent doubt about which way to go. No existential fear that it will all eventually come to naught. No hesitation when thinking of that to which I intend to devote myself. No lack of vehemence; nor falter in my pursuit. I want to strive, and I want to strive hard. Nothing is keeping me from pursuing my aspirations; at least not within myself, that is.
It is obvious, therefore, that I want the best. Everybody does. And in a world of globalisation, opportunities, and competition, the best seems within reach of whoever wants to seize it. Whatever direction one chooses to tread, there seem to be a multitude of ways in which one can help oneself tread it, be they Sci-Hub, Reddit, aeroplanes, or even the mere fact that most people enjoy more leisure than ever before. This pertains to me, too: If nothing within me is keeping me, surely nothing in the world I live in is doing so.
Admittedly, I frighten now and then when the world uprears mightily before me. All these choices that seem so rigid and irreversible. All this perplexity that never fails to startle me profoundly. I am confronted, as everyone else, by the chaos and impenetrability of existence; this is and must be a part of the cause in which I believe as it is an all-pervading quality of the world within the realms of which I wish to fight for said cause. I cannot disbelieve in the world, in life, as an entitative yet often subtle set of circumstances that definitively surpass my ability to figure out their patterns, let alone their mechanics; I cannot disbelieve in radical complexity. The unknown thus becomes a quality of the known, every new finding becomes not just evidence of the abundance of my comprehension, but evidence of the (significantly ampler) abundance of my incomprehension. I carry this complexity within me and embrace it in every act as it both has the power to potentially render my aspirations naïve (or even empty) and endows my doings with an inherent capacity to grow beyond the imaginable. The world might not be as I conjured it up to be–it most certainly is not–but this also entails a potential for new realisations. This insecurity is intrinsic to every action, regardless of any attempt at sticking to what I know, and thus, as I cannot know before I try, fright cannot reasonably prevent me from trying.
So, everything seems set for me to embark on my search for what I aspire to. In my particular case, the search is academic–but although that seems to be a defining and essential feature, it might not be discriminative. It is scientifical, theoretical, philosophical, it is located within the tension between methods and ideas, rigour and creativity–yet it is no different from that which delves into any other field; were I to have got other interests, my journey would have been a different one, but no more different than had I got yet others. Of course I count myself lucky to have an interest that is so common and held highly by so many–but even though I am grateful for the surging advancement this particular field has experienced and is still experiencing, I cannot make out what sets it apart, besides the fact that many have a propensity to find that something does set it apart. Though it often purports to do so, science does not provide elevated realisation. There are obviously different ways of interpreting the world, but none is superior to any other: Measuring and appraising modes of comprehension is an act that requires the employment of non-modal, methodologically detached preconception which causes the vindication of whichever set of methods and perspectives favoured to be but an epistemological tautology. Such antipositivism is not a means of disregarding of scientificity, but rather of aligning epistemological statuses of perspectives so as to allow squarer discriminativity: Neither scientific education nor science itself is a substantially, let alone essentially, different phenomenon than any other field of endeavour. That is not to say that scientific thought follows the same pattern as every other field of interest; it is rather to say that there is no pattern, that even science itself does not entirely follow the pattern it has built with bricks of methodology and formalism and so strictly complies with, that it too is subject to human comprehension. Not only does scientificity fail to provide more truth than any other mindset, it also fails to produce a coherent, entitative worldview: The epistemological humility that may enable it to speak of the world with more clout also contains a realisation of its inadequacy that renders its own pursuit of truth meaningless. It relies on the existence of a world it can entertain, the immediacy of which is fundamentally subjective. Seeing myself as an imminent academic is therefore a futile method for discerning a path before me; the significance of my search does not stem from its quality of academicness, and though it might very well be possible for me to conceive of it so (perhaps even difficult not to conceive of it so), it would be fallacious to regard the field-oriented specificity of any enquiry (since this specificity is not substantial) as determinative for its ability to provide truth (or a belief that truth has been found)–and thus for its substantial value as a perspective in lieu of any other perspective (which likewise must be essentially contingent). Rather I must regard that which leads me on: a potency inside me that I can neither fully conceive nor reduce and that I will only waste time trying to map, a potency that has borne many names and yet seemed just as opaque, a potency I must find at the end of each deduction; this search of mine is nothing but an attempt at helping myself to what could be designated as a meaningful existence.
This might come across as a trivial point; however, having manifested that no scientific search is essentially scientific per se (and that this applies broadly), it does show significance as to elucidating what this search for a meaningful existence then comprises. Of course the specific character of my search matters to me, and from my point of view no other interests could have substituted the ones I have. Up to this point, the personal aspect of any journey seems central, even crucial: No analysis detached from internally subjective experience succeeds at producing a proper illustration of human endeavour, even though we often attribute to this endeavour a resemblingly equal detachment. In this domain of individuality only the given persists, specifically, a reality that is neither an entity nor susceptible to externalities. There is, then, a hierarchy of importance; of ontological status. Yet even the form and vindication of this hierarchy itself affect the whole of my subjectivity–which therefore must be affected doubly: both via the conscious force with which one hierarchises phenomena of which one is aware (and which one has arranged in categories) and via the intentionality that lies in the focality of such categorisation. A subtle process of self-fortification takes place underneath and consequently of that of my dealing with whatever I deal with, and one must envisage a subjectivity that cannot self-realise beyond its own scope, that cannot question the potency that drives it, that does not merely interpret the world but constructs it–in this particular case, the ‘world’ would denote my idea of scientificity. Distinguishing between scientificity and personality is thereby rendered insignificant at several levels. These two aspects of the search mirror and evince each other and become intertwined to the point of unity. Each both comprises and composes the other, and each both purports and fails to constitute what could be designated as an aggregate view of the world.
This is exactly what this concept of scientificity does: leads me on, both in the sense of deception and incitement. The mechanics I have entertained here would pertain too had I had an openly personal interest that did not purport to transcend the limits of subjectivity–in such case there would have been no need for the reasoning presented here–and so the only incongruity lies in the proclamation of truth, in the intransigent belief in an objectivity severed from its interpretation. Instead of inventing a concept of personal scientificity, a merging which would couple the concepts but not allow for the issues presented here, there is need for less perspectivity, less specificity, and less aggregation. Where does that leave me?
Nothing is keeping me, I found. Nothing makes me doubt the things I believe in; perhaps that is the problem.
About the Author
Asger Trier Kjær is living in Copenhagen where he is studying for a BSc in political science. He is taken up mostly by the issues of how we create truth; especially by the role academic thinking plays in this process.