Friday, October 9, 2015

The Living and the Dead

I have been lecturing on the mind/body problem in my Philosophy 100 course and I took time to describe Hans Jonas’ account of the history of human thinking about life and death.  Jonas was far ahead of his time on these questions, and should be better known and read. 
According to Jonas, substance dualism was a midway between two poles: animism and materialism.  Substance dualists hold that the human being consists of two distinct kinds of substance.  A substance (see Aristotle) is something that can remain the same while it undergoes (hence: substance) change.  So an iron bar can be heated from cold and black to red hot while remaining iron all the while.  Likewise, bricks and boards can be shaped into a church or a bank while remaining bricks and boards.  Substance dualists explain the existence of human consciousness by supposing that the body consists of material substance and the mind (or soul) consists of immaterial substance.  The former is shaped into bones and organs; the latter, into sensations, emotions, and ideas. 
Substance dualism is nothing recent.  The Roman philosopher Lucretius (perhaps the only genuine Roman philosopher, with the possible exception of Cicero) thought that the soul was a subtle kind of material enclosed in the body that escaped when the body was cut open.  Death is like a collapsing balloon.  René Descartes, however, is the philosopher most associated with this theory. 
Jonas argued that the most common view, when human beings first began to think about nature, was animism.  Animists suppose that everything in the Kosmos is alive.  Not just human beings, other animals, and plants, but rocks, mountains, and the heavenly lights.  After all, the moon waxes and wanes just as the crops flourish and wither with the seasons.  Ice crystals grow, don’t they?  Mountains sometimes have inner, molten cores, just like spouses. 
This view is common sense and accords with everyday observations but it confronted one big problem, a scandal as Jonas put it.  The problem was death.  Living things die.  How is the animist to understand a corpse?  This problem never goes away and confronting it led in time to a distinction between body and soul.  That led in much more time to dualism. 
Dualism turned out to be incoherent.  If the soul is immaterial, how does it interact with material substance?  Surely the mind can move the body, as any notes who reaches for a glass of beer.  Just as surely, the body can influence the mind, as anyone knows who drank too much beer.  Material interacts with material.  That is essential to its definition.  Billiard balls collide with billiard balls.  If the soul were immaterial substance, then it could not interact with material substance.  If a ghost can walk through walls because it is composed of immaterial ectoplasm, then how can it push against the floor to walk at all? 
Descartes’ substance dualism gave way in short order to materialism.  Everything in the Kosmos is dead.  Dead particles collide with other dead particles.  Biological organisms appear to be alive, but this is only a pretense.  They are puppets, the strings of which are pulled by their molecular constituents.
If the scandal for animism was death, which it tried furiously to deny, the scandal for materialism is life.  Living things do not merely move, they move with agendas.  A rock doesn’t care whether it remains intact or shatters, but a spider moving across a kitchen floor is up to something.  It will succeed or fail, and that is not something that materialism can allow. 
Jonas argued, paradoxically but correctly, that Darwinian Theory refutes rather than confirms materialism.  If living organisms with agendas and consciousness are indeed material things that emerged by mechanical processes, then the dead material in a prebiotic earth was potentially alive.  The potential for soul was present in the primordial soup. 
I think that the pendulum is swinging back toward animism.  No, crystals are not alive in the same sense that we are, but neither are plants.  Yet the subtle growth of crystals is not unrelated to the growth of a child.  Both the one and the other are growing.  Growth in all cases involves the exploitation of the potential already present in material substance.  This, at any rate, is what I have learned. 

Friday, October 2, 2015

The Problem of Myself

Three of the most basic problems in modern philosophy are different approaches to the same problematic: how can the human individual be part of the physical world around her and separate from that world at the same time.  This is most explicit in the mind/body problem (what is the relationship between consciousness and unconscious matter?).  It is just as fundamental to the problem of free will.  Is my consciousness of choosing and acting the cause of my actions (given the fact that it seems to depend on physical processes) and, if so, how is it the cause?  These two broad topics, difficult as they are, seem easy compared to the third.  What does it mean to say that I am the same person over time when both my physical and mental self are constantly changing? 
There are three general approaches to this question: illusion theory, substance theory, and continuity theory.  The spread is typical of modern philosophy.  You get a null answer (there is no persistent identity or self), a grounding in common sense (self is substantiated in the body or the soul), and an attempt to redefine the question (the self is a continuous series of memories). 
The most prominent defense of the illusion theory comes from two basic principles of Buddhist doctrine.  According to the principle of impermanence, all compounded things will eventually decompose.  This is true of mountains as it is true of human bodies and human minds.  It is true not only “eventually” but persistently.  Everything that exists now has emerged as something else fell the Hell apart.  This is true moment to moment; so my self then is constantly fallout apart into my self now. 
The second principle is interdependence.  There are in fact no individual objects or beings.  When we recognize a tree or some other person as an individual thing, we are abstracting from (which is to say, forgetting) a vast number of other things on which it depends.  The tree is only a tree because it is rooted in a ground that provides moisture and reaches up, through obliging space, to take in the sunlight and air.  Birch trees and Terry Bertrams are like waves on the ocean: temporary ripples riding on an ocean of causation. 
So there is really no persistent me to take responsibility for my actions or to be important enough to worry about.  There is a lot of truth to this view and I think that it is liberating in the way that my Zen teachers have said.  It is not, however, the whole picture.  I am saving for retirement.  At the present rate, I expect to stop working sometime in the next century (assuming that Social Security is intact).  I also expect that it will, in some important sense, be me who retires.  I think that I will be disappointed if I have not saved enough.  Illusion theory offers nothing to comfort me. 
Substance theory is based on Aristotle’s account of change.  For something to change it must become other that it is (or else here has been no change) and remain what it is (or else it has not changed but been replaced).  To account for this you need one substratum and two opposite qualities.  An iron bar becomes hot and red from being cold and black when it is heated.  It remains what it is (iron before and after) but becomes what it is not (hot when it was cold).  So I am the same person because there is something that is me that has not changed (my body or my soul) despite the fact that I changed in many ways. 
The two candidates for individual substance (body and soul) both seem to be lacking.  My body is not the same from moment to moment, let alone through my life.  It seems likely that all my material constituents are replaces once or twice during my lifetime.  Matter and energy flow in and out.  As for the soul, if it’s the same as my consciousness and memories, then it changes along with my body.  If it is something else, what is it?  See this previous post for the difficulties. 
The last approach, continuity of memory theory, is compelling enough that it seems to grab some of my students before I get to it in Introduction to Philosophy.  It was pioneered by John Locke.  I am the same person I was when I was 5 years old because I can remember things that happened to me when I was five.  In the live size photo of me on my mother’s wall I am wearing a sweater.  The photo is black and white but I remember that the sweater was red.  You can remember what happens to someone else. 
That’s a pretty good answer, but there is a problem.  Suppose that my memories could be downloaded and uploaded by someone else.  Now that guy remembers wearing the red sweater.  Does that mean that he is me?  No.  Tomorrow, when he eats breakfast, he will enjoy it.  I will not. 
Biology offers something useful here.  I began life as a single, fertilized cell, half mommy, half daddy.  All of the specifically human cells in my body (a minority interest among a lot of bacteria, as I understand) trace back their lineage to that Ur cell.  When the cell multiplication formed a blastocyst, there was then established an existentially robust distinction between inside and outside, self and other.  That distinct remains as long as I live. 

Biological continuity is probably the best foundation for a theory of self.  Any philosophically coherent account of soul will have to be grounded in that, as Aristotle argued in his De Anima.  But I am not sure that it answers the most important question.  Tomorrow when I swing my legs out of bed, will that be me that contemplates the event tonight, or a newly regenerated me that only remembers typing this blog.  That is a haunting question.  

Friday, September 25, 2015

On the human thing

I am about to propose a paper for the IPSA next year in Istanbul.  What follows are some reflections that I will distil into that proposal.  
Aristotle reflected that the various branches of philosophy often took their essential subject matter for granted.  A mathematician might never bother to ask what a number is and someone investigating physics (all motion and change, as the philosopher understood it) might never address the question whether motion and change are real.  Modern philosophy, having divorced itself from science, is almost exclusively devoted to topics which other fields take for granted. 
In the case of political science, someone studying voting behavior, for example, will probably feel little need to explain what government is and what politics is, let alone what human beings are.  Political philosophy, my racket, can and must address these questions. 
Politics in its full expression is an exclusively human activity and if the human being is the political animal, as Aristotle says, we cannot understand either the human or the political apart from one another. 
I have long thought the beginnings of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics and Politics offer a clue to this puzzle.  Here is how the former opens:
πσα τέχνη κα πσα μέθοδος, μοίως δ πρξίς τε κα προαίρεσις, γαθο τινς φίεσθαι δοκε: δι καλς πεφήναντο τγαθόν, ο πάντ φίεται.
Every technology and every methodical inquiry, and similarly both practice and deliberate action, are regarded as aiming at some good; wherefore the good beautifully presents as that at which everything aims. 
I often ask my students in ancient political philosophy to tell me what “the good” is.  They are always stumped.  Aristotle makes it clear.  The good is some goal that explains some deliberate human activity. 
It is important to note that these activities‑technique, method, practice, and action‑are activities of individual persons.  In the most primary sense, politicians politic and deliberate; regimes do so only in a secondary if not a metaphorical sense.  If we take the Nicomachean Ethics to be an account of the human being, and it is certainly at least that, then it would seem that the human being is the natural person, the individual. 
Here is how the Politics begins:
πειδ πσαν πόλιν ρμεν κοινωνίαν τιν οσαν κα πσαν κοινωνίαν γαθο τινος νεκεν συνεστηκυαν τοῦ γρ εναι δοκοντος γαθο χάριν πάντα πράττουσι πάντες, δλον ς πσαι μν γαθο τινος στοχάζονται, μάλιστα δ [5] κα το κυριωτάτου πάντων πασν κυριωτάτη κα πάσας περιέχουσα τς λλας.  ατη δ στν καλουμένη πόλις κα κοινωνία πολιτική.
Since we see every polis to be some community and every community is established for the sake of some good (for the good is regarded to be that for the sake of which everyone does everything) as it is clear that as all communities aim at some good, the one that aims especially at the most authoritative good is the most authoritative of all of them and embraces all the others.  This is called the polis, is the political community. 
If the Politics is an account of the human being, and it is surely at least that, then it would seem that the human being is the assembly of natural persons, self-organized in a political way. 
The two points of departure point to one idea.  The human being is not the individual nor is it the social group; it is instead the dynamic that involves both of them.  A person can live apart from other persons, as do hermits; however, to the extent that he lives off the culture baggage that he carries (does he take books with him into the woods?) he is not really alone and to the extent that he does not the life he lives is more animal than human.  If you don’t believe me, read Rousseau’s Second Discourse. 
Likewise, human beings can attempt to integrate themselves and others into a social whole so completely that their individuality disappears.  This latter trajectory is more limited than the former.  It is possible for one human being to become completely feral; it is not possible (at least not yet) for two or more human animals to become one human being.  Only the most awesome force can suppress human individuality and that only so long and so thoroughly as the force is applied.
Biopolitical theory, based on Darwinian evolution, can turn the two dimensional spectrum defined by the poles of human persons and human communities into a three dimensional and very real structure reaching backward into time.  Evolution is not goal-directed.  In so far as it has a direction, it teleomatic rather than teleonomic.  It is a mechanical force, pushing organic forms into new environmental niches.  It is not trying to do anything anymore than a balloon is trying to get high.  At any one point in time a biological lineage can branch toward simpler organisms or more complex ones or both.  That one or more branches moved into new niches by the emergence of more and more complex organisms is the reason that human beings (and bovine beings and canine beings, etc.) exist on this planet. 
Single celled organisms can combine into multicellular organisms and eventually their individuality can be entirely (or almost entirely) submerged into the whole.  Multicellular organisms can go the other way or parts of them can go their own way (viruses?).  Some, as the scarecrow says, do go both ways, as in the case of slime molds.  Multicellular individual organisms can also coalesce with other individuals into larger social wholes, though here complete assimilation is more challenging.  Eusocial insects combine into colonies and hives that act more or less like biological individuals.  A sterile cast of ant workers is a sign that individuality has been reproductively submerged in a social whole.  For the most part, social animals are more individual than social.  Sociobiology is all about the ways that individual interests are managed in a way that maintains social integration. 

Human beings are capable of a degree of social integration that is greater than anything other than the eusocial insects and is much deeper than that.  We are almost certainly the only animal that can try to submerge its individual self in a larger whole, only to fail.  I propose that this is the temporal dimension of Aristotle’s great dichotomy.  I also suspect that group selection is the key to understanding this existential dimension of the human being.  That is what I will present in Istanbul, if my paper is accepted.  

Friday, September 18, 2015

How Group Selection Works

To say that a human being must breathe, eat, and defecate, all on a regular basis, in order or write poetry, does not reduce poetry to respiration and digestion; it simply reminds us that poets are biological beings.  Biological processes such as these may rarely be relevant to the interpretation of poetry but they are constantly relevant to an historical interpretation of households and cities.  Caesar cannot recline and enjoy his feasts if food does not come in and poop go out and neither can Rome. 
If you want to understand the idea of justice, as Plato’s Socrates sets out to do in the Republic, you will sooner or later have to account for the existence of human souls and human communities and that cannot be accomplished without evolutionary theory.  My position (big surprise) is that the latter completes Socrates’ account. 
I have been reading David Sloan Wilson’s Does Altruism Exist?  It reminded me of a fairy tale I composed some time ago to illustrate group selection.  I offer it here. 
Consider a group of imaginary primates living and hunting in small groups in an area covered by tall grass.  I’ll call them puds.  Some of the primates in each group are taller than the grass.  Others are smaller than the grass. 
Now consider that this population of puds is subject to two selection pressures.  The puds are preyed upon by a large avian animal.  I’ll call it a dragon.  Dragons cannot spot a single tall pud but can easily spot more than a handful when the group is moving.  When a dragon descends on a pud group, however, it can feed on large and small with equal ease.  Groups with a lot of tall puds are at a disadvantage, so that is selection against those groups
Within each group, tall puds have an advantage.  They are stronger and can forcibly mate with more females than their shorter male pud compatriots.  So in any group with both tall and short males, the taller will proliferate over time.  So that is selection against small puds
If the groups remain isolated from one another, the species is on the road to extinction.  Every group will eventually have enough basketball stars to attract a dragon and so every group will be eaten and the dragons will go on disability.
What will save the puds is that some of them will survive a dragon attack.  The survivors will find other survivors and form new groups.  Groups with more short pud fellows will survive longer and grow larger, increasing the supply of small puds in the total population.  If, however, every group has at least a few tall guys, the cycle will continue. 
One thing that might alter the trajectory is if the puds are smart enough to figure this out.  A bunch of small puds might realize that the two tall puds who made it to the founding council are a problem and vote them off of the island.  This rule, whether a product of pud culture or a slowly evolving disposition, would tilt the playing field in favor of puds against dragons.  How bad it would be for the latter depends on how tall genes are distributed in the population. 
I thought this up before I knew a lot about the research into group selection.  I intended it only as a demonstration that group selection was logically possible.  D.S. Wilson’s book gave me an example that neatly matches my fairy tale.  Pond skaters (Gerridae) are insects that skate across water in search of prey.  The males come in two flavors: rapists and gentlemen.  The former force themselves on any female they meet.  The latter wait until a female approaches to mate. 
Within groups of skaters, the rapists have an advantage.  They mate more often and produce more offspring.  So their sons proliferate in the group.  However, their appalling behavior doesn’t leave the females with enough time to feed, so they lay far fewer eggs than they would if they were well fed.  The result is that groups with more gentleman grow faster than those with more rapists. 
What keeps the gentleman in business is that females have some choice.  When groups are forming, females are more likely to join a group with more gentlemen.  That simple, biologically trigger preference, rewards chivalry with the precious coin of reproductive success. 
This explains so much.  It explains why cooperation is so difficult and how it is possible.  It explains why rules of justice are necessary among human beings and other social organisms and how justice is possible. 
Something more important now occurs to me.  The balance between group selection and individual selection can tilt either way.  When it tilts toward the group, eventually you get the assimilation of individual organisms into a new whole, as when a multi-cellular animal emerges from a cooperation of cells.  When it tilts the other way, the community with its social interactions disintegrates into individual competitors. 

Human beings are social animals but we are also individuals.  The entire field of justice and morality emerges from this fact.  All human activity, including poetry and politics, is possible because within group selection and between group selection balanced out, over a long period of our life on this earth.  

Friday, September 11, 2015

The Spiritual Evolution of Homo naledi

Whatever it means to belong to the genus Homo, it doesn’t seem to have much to do with brain size.  If Homo is more than an artificial category (like Socrates’ “all the numbers except 17”), if the homonini are a large trunk branching off from the chimpanzees, one branch of which led to Homo sapiens, the question arises whether all the homonini are indeed members of the human clade in some essential sense.  Are (or were) Homo erectus and Homo neanderthalensis human? 
This question occurred to me today as I listened to news of the discovery of a new hominid species, Homo naledi.  A treasure trove of naledi bones were discovered deep in a cave 30 miles from Johannesburg, South Africa.  Listening to one of the explorers describing how they reached the bones affected me so strongly I had to pull off the road.  I have explored a number of wild caves and suffered once from an almost disastrous case of claustrophobia.  She had to insert herself, pretzel-style, through a crack that was only seven inches wide.  She’s a better man than I am Gunga Din.  
Here is the creature they brought back:
Their feet were incredibly similar to those of modern humans, says Harcourt-Smith, who led the study of the newly discovered creature's feet. Homo naledi stood about 5 feet tall, and yet they had a skull whose volume was only about one-third of ours, a tiny brain in comparison with that of the modern human. Despite their ability to walk upright, with stiff feet and toes that couldn't grasp things as easily as more primitive animals, they had shoulders and hands indicating they would have been quite comfortable climbing through trees and, perhaps, through caves.
This is astonishing.  It has been generally assumed that as our ancestors evolved they maintained a more or less even aspect ratio‑feet getting bigger along with the ass and the elbows and the earlobes.  These critters seem to have been evolving from the ground up.  They had to buy size 9 shoes and hats that would fit a cabbage patch doll. 
And yet…  They were admirably fit for climbing up into trees or down into caves, but why the latter?  It must have easier for them to negotiate the narrow passage than it was for our modern day cavers but they had to do it in the dark.  So what the hell were they doing down there? 
Geological features show that the bodies arrived in the cave over a period of time, meaning this wasn't a one-off event or catastrophe of some sort. Teeth show that the remains come from individuals of many different ages, from young children to teenagers to elderly adults. There aren't signs of violence, falls, or cannibalism. And there are almost no remains from any other creature, indicating that this was a place that had to be sought out deliberately — not a place that some kind of creature dragged its prey.
The only explanation that stands at present is that this was a burial chamber.  They were going to a great deal of trouble to hide their dead. 

To crawl that deep into the dark in order to inter the remains of their loved ones suggests a consciousness of mortality that is fully human, despite their small brains.  Whatever changed when we and our nearer relatives branched off from the chimpanzees, it was more than just bigger or smarter brains.  It involved a much more sophisticated self-awareness.  We evolved not just into more sophisticated physically and mentally subtle forms.  We evolved in the direction of more sophisticated ideas.  That is spiritual evolution and it may yet be the next frontier in evolutionary theory.  

Friday, August 28, 2015

Of Ape and Apparatus

David Sloan Wilson has a fascinating discussion with Evolutionary Psychologist Debra Lieberman at This View of Life.  If you are interested in cutting edge discussions of evolution and biology as these areas of research focus on human concerns, this site belongs in your bookmarks. 
I had the honor of joining Debra at a couple of Liberty Fund colloquiums, during which we engaged with other scholars in long, wonderful conversations.  I can tell you that she is someone worth listening to. 
As I read the interview, I remembered one exchange between the two of us.  I remarked that chimpanzees were not machines and she asked me why I thought that this was so.  I don’t remember what I said in reply but I do remember (this is how emotions and memory works!) that I found my reply to be inadequate.  Just right now I will indulge in the temptation to say what I should have said then. 
Machines are material objects, substantiated (made real over time) by the persistence of the material.  They function to allow work to be done more efficiently (i.e. with less energy required).  To take a simple example, consider a ramp at the entrance to a parking garage.  The ramp allows cars to go up and down at an angle rather than vertically, just as stairs do or switchbacks on a trail.  Cars flow in even motion up and down the ramp and it is this flow that explains the existence of the ramp; however, the ramp remains materially the same over time.  If the owner were to replace the material of which the ramp is composed with new material he would say, perhaps with some pride, that the old ramp had been replaced.  He would be speaking accurately. 
A chimpanzee is the very opposite of a machine.  She is constantly recreating herself by exchanging material and energy with her environment.  This self-recreation or self-maintenance, is what substantiates her and all living organisms.  Aristotle would say, and I say with him, that her substance is a soul (or psyche).  The soul is what makes materials that are potentially alive into a real, living organism.  The soul is not a material thing but something (an activity?) that uses material to maintain itself.  To be sure, living organisms deploy a vast number of machines.  From the muscular pulley that works the forelimb down to the molecular conveyer belts that move material inside the cells, machines are indispensable. 
Machines in the most basic sense are not exclusive to human beings or even to organisms.  The formation of mountains as two plate push against one another or the generation of a tornado as a column of twisting air moving parallel to the ground begins to right itself, are good examples.  Organisms, however, can only be properly understood as astonishing processes that employ machines to maintain themselves.  There is no magic here.  The metabolism of the chimpanzee’s digestion is a distant cousin of the heat and moisture that berths the storm.  The ape, however, is trying to do something and the twister is not. 
To properly understand living organisms in general and human organisms in particular, one must steer between two temptations.  One is to view human beings as distinct and unrelated to inorganic, material and mechanical nature.  Just as we are distantly related to the chimpanzee so we are more distantly related to the purple mountain and the blazing stars.  The other is to view us mere machines, no different from dust swirling in the wind.  Nothing is physics or astronomy could allow one to predict an infant that clings to her mother’s breast and cries when they are separated. 

Monday, August 17, 2015

Liberal Education & Bad Pop Psychology

Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt have an excellent piece in The Atlantic: “The Coddling of the American Mind”.  Lukianoff is a constitutional lawyer and Haidt is a social psychologist.  Their topic is the recent movement on college campuses to create an environment where no one can be offended, let alone traumatized, by anything that anyone says.  They provide a lot of familiar examples, but perhaps the most telling concerns the efforts of some law students to suppress the teaching a rape law in their classes.  After all, someone in the room might have been subject to this terrible crime and might well be traumatized by the discussion. 
The current movement is largely about emotional well-being. More than the last, it presumes an extraordinary fragility of the collegiate psyche, and therefore elevates the goal of protecting students from psychological harm. The ultimate aim, it seems, is to turn campuses into “safe spaces” where young adults are shielded from words and ideas that make some uncomfortable. And more than the last, this movement seeks to punish anyone who interferes with that aim, even accidentally. You might call this impulse vindictive protectiveness. It is creating a culture in which everyone must think twice before speaking up, lest they face charges of insensitivity, aggression, or worse.
The authors make some traditional arguments on behalf of a liberal education and critical thinking‑they mention the Socratic Method, for example‑but their primary argument seems to be based on cognitive psychology. 
For millennia, philosophers have understood that we don’t see life as it is; we see a version distorted by our hopes, fears, and other attachments. The Buddha said, “Our life is the creation of our mind.” Marcus Aurelius said, “Life itself is but what you deem it.” The quest for wisdom in many traditions begins with this insight. Early Buddhists and the Stoics, for example, developed practices for reducing attachments, thinking more clearly, and finding release from the emotional torments of normal mental life.
Cognitive behavioral therapy is a modern embodiment of this ancient wisdom. It is the most extensively studied nonpharmaceutical treatment of mental illness, and is used widely to treat depression, anxiety disorders, eating disorders, and addiction. It can even be of help to schizophrenics. No other form of psychotherapy has been shown to work for a broader range of problems.
Having practiced Zen Buddhist meditation for many years, I can testify that it indeed works like cognitive psychology as they describe it.  It also just plain works.  The strategy is to avoid avoiding.  When someone suffering from distress and trauma tries to avoid the source of the trauma, it only makes it stronger.  Gentle persistent exposure (or mindfulness, as current Buddhist language has it) is the best way to work through the human problems.  Norman Fisher’s Training in Compassion: Zen Teachings on the Practice of Lojong is an excellent introduction to the Zen method.  In a nutshell, it teaches you to move toward rather than away from what is causing pain. 
So I am, as it were, primed to receive the message that Lukianoff and Haidt deliver.  I can’t speak about cognitive psychology but I know something about liberal education.  I suspect that it is impossible without trauma.  Socrates only became Socrates when he experienced a moment of deep crisis.  The philosophical method he was practicing (that of pre-Socratic science) brought him to a point of intellectual collapse.  Out of that trauma, he became the most influential personality in the history of philosophy.  His trauma is recorded in the Phaedo.  I don’t think he had another, but his students certainly did.  The story of their traumas is written throughout the Platonic corpus.  Aristotle must have had the same experience when broke away from Plato. 
I have had two such experiences.  One in my second year of college, when I realized that I was a conservative.  My friends thought I had been captured by aliens.  All the way through graduate school and into the early years of my teaching career, I rejected Darwinian explanations.  I thought they were inconsistent with Plato and Aristotle.  I still remember sitting on my deck reading Larry Arnhart when I realized that this was not the case.  It was a traumatic moment.  Maybe two is enough for anyone. 
Liberal education is inseparable from trauma and discomfort.  If the universities try to isolate students from these, it is not only bad pop psychology, it is a deep betrayal of their mission.