Fermentation and Philosophy: Why Fermentation is Important to Counselling

Introduction

Philosophy and fermentation go hand in hand. My previous posts are about these aspects: fermentation is vital for a peculiar understanding of philosophy. I want to revisit some of these aspects. While doing this, I want to introduce this peculiar way of doing philosophy for philosophical counselling. In the following essay, I briefly sketch the idea of philosophical counselling. I then revisit so to speak some of my previous posts to lay out some of the aspects that is important, such as time and salt. In the third and last part of the essay, I synthesize these two, in other words, I bring together fermentation and philosophical counselling.

What is Philosophical Counselling?

Using philosophy in the counselling space might seem at first strange. One might ask a very important question before introducing philosophy in the counselling space: What exactly is philosophy? Philosophy can be many things but using analytic philosophy in a therapeutic session seems odd. The importance of defining philosophy cannot be overstated. Using philosophy as done in the academy is also problematic. This might consist of exegesis of texts. What this means is simply the analyzing and interpretation of texts and what other philosophers said. Once again, this is not conducive for a counselling session. Philosophy, as the literal word means, entail the love of wisdom. “Philo-” means loving and “sophia” means wisdom. Philosophy in this more archaic understanding is totally different from the contemporary understanding of the word.

What is this “philosophia” then? One might look back at the history of ancient Greek philosophy and philosophers to answer this question, but this will seem strange at first because the work done in that time period has no relevance to our daily lives at this moment. In other words, trying to read Marcus Aurelius (Roman Stoic philosopher) in a way which is relevant to our daily lives will render the original context in which it was produced useless. This is where philosophical counselling enters. Philosophical counselling is the using of philosophical wisdom gained over an extended period of time by a philosopher to translate complex texts into something relevant to the everyday person in his or her everyday life and struggles. This is not an easy task. Philosophy has become a very technical subject with few if any philosophers specializing over a vast number of fields. One might claim that Aristotle was the last and only philosopher having the right to claim such a feat. The problem of contemporary philosophy then is that philosophers like scientists and doctors specialize in a very particular niche and this knowledge might be incomprehensible to the everyday person, and the philosopher might also struggle to explain his or her work without losing much of the complexities.

The philosophical counsellor can thus not specialize in one field because his counselees (read: clients) will have various problems stretching over numerous fields. The philosophical counsellor, in other words, needs to be generalist and not a specialist, but he or she needs to have the insight in specialist niches. The philosophical counsellor should thus be well read in various philosophical sub-disciplines but also cross disciplines like art and religion so that he or she can respond adequately to the needs of the counselee.

So, what is philosophical counselling? In a condensed and compressed form, philosophical counselling is the rendering of complex contemporary philosophy in such a way that it has practical value for the everyday person in his or her everyday life. The philosophical counsellor will thus help the counselee answer the question “How might I live my life?”. The philosophical counsellor will also provide the counselee the necessary tools to read philosophy in such a way as to edify his or her own life. The philosophical counsellor, in short, will help the counselee become a fellow philosopher so that they might philosophize together.

Philosophy and Fermentation Go Hand in Hand

In some of my previous essays, I claim three things. Fermentation and philosophy are very similar because in both there is (i) an element of waiting (i.e. time is an ingredient in both), (ii) an element of transformation due to time, and (iii) things which cause this halting of time (like salt). I will briefly revisit these notions to introduce them for philosophical counselling.

(i) An Element of Waiting

Time is often disregarded as an ingredient in cooking and in philosophy. We live in an era of instant gratification. We need bread or any type of dough to rise in three hours and then we want it now. Counselling and therapy which lasts for extended periods of time are often not supported by medical schemes. We want pills now that make us healthy, we do not want to put in the effort to heal ourselves. Time is often the answer to many question and ailments. However, time in baking is very important; the longer the dough ferments the better it is taste wise and health wise. Taking one’s time in understanding something (like philosophy) can be more rewarding in the long run than the easily digestible pop-phil or pop-psy books which are readily available to the general public. Time might also heal one’s mental health when one takes time for oneself to just be for a while without the constant running around. (One common problem is that big corporates cannot sell or commodify time, thus our reluctance to believe in the power of time).

(ii) An Element of Transformation Due to Time

An important consequence of time is the transformation of, say, the dough into something else. When food is fermented long enough there is a transformation. The initial thing one started with is not the same as the final product. The product of this transformation is sometimes more digestible than the initial product one started out with. A common example of this is phytic acids in flour. When the dough is fermented for long enough, the final product turns “sour” and in this transformation, it helps the body with absorption of nutrients because the phytic acids are “neutralized” due to the sour environment. The final product, after an extended period of time (being fermented), is more digestible and healthier. One might make the same claim in philosophy and understanding some complex argument. This might take an extended period of time, so to speak fermenting in one’s mind, but the final product will be better and healthier for one’s mind.

(iii) Things Which Cause This Halting of Time

The quality of ingredients one use is important. It is almost impossible to make something good from something which cannot be turned into something good. (One might here ask the help or Aristotle’s teleological argument.) One cannot take a mass-produced product and turn it into a healthy and wholesome product. There are thus ingredients which might stifle our growth, but there are others which stifle our growth with a particular and good goal or end in mind. (Again, recall Aristotle’s teleological argument). Salt (of good quality) is such an ingredient. Salt, in the baking process, will help with the slowing down of time. One might see this as a reverse-catalyst. Without salt, the bread will ferment too fast. Salt also preserves and kills off unwanted bacteria.

Fermentation and Philosophical Counselling

The above mentioned three notions cannot be dealt with on their own. On might, as I have done, try to explain them separately, but the problem is that all three happens simultaneously and all three depend on each other to happen. One cannot ferment without salt, and fermentation would not happen without time. It is simply not a quick project. This is where philosophy and philosophical counselling also enters and why fermentation is important to explain the ideas. Philosophy based on these three notions is the conception of philosophy I want to put forward for philosophical counselling. Let me explain.

Philosophy is like fermentation because it helps one transform what one currently possesses. It helps one take everyday life, which is mostly messy and does not always make sense in the bigger scheme of things, and it ferments this. The product, after fermentation, is more digestible. Read: after one philosophizes about everyday life and problems, these problems are more understandable and makes more sense. This does not necessarily happen immediately, and sometimes it might happen too quickly, or negative things happen (read: bad bacteria or non-beneficial yeast grows). The need for salt to slow down and kill off bad bacteria and non-beneficial yeast is just as important in the process of philosophizing. Read: the philosophical counsellor acts like the salt.

Conclusion

Philosophical counselling influenced by the idea of fermentation can be beneficial. The philosophical counsellor, acting like salt, can stifle the growth of bad bacteria and non-beneficial yeast, but he or she can also stifle one’s own growth in beneficial ways. Slowing down of time can help in philosophical counselling sessions in such a way as to promote “fermentation” over ideas and arguments. This process (read: philosophizing) helps to digest what seems to be problems and helps to digest things which is not digestible at the present stage. Everyday life, problems, and just “being” can be broken down into digestible pieces. Consequently, these fermented pieces (read: philosophical discussions with a philosophical counsellor) become healthier and helps with cultivating one’s own new way of being in the world. One might call this an edifying process. Basically, what this means is that one grows stronger morally, emotionally, and spiritually. But this cannot happen alone or without the help of someone else. Enter the philosophical counsellor. With the help of philosophy (influenced by the idea of fermentation) the counselee can be helped on the road of growing stronger.

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