2008 :: Issue 3/Fall :: Philosophical Notebooks
1. We live in a mysterious universe.
2. We will never come to the end of the mystery.
2.1 There is always a wider context than what we know. Our knowledge is always limited and piecemeal. There is always, and will always be, more that we don’t know than that which we do. Variety is endless. Possibility is endless. At any moment a new paradigm may change the cast of light and so change the look, meaning, opacity and transparency of all we thought we knew. No knowledge, judgment, law or construction of truth and reality can ever be said to be absolute and irrevocable. All knowledge is provisional.
3. We are charged with the exploration of the mystery.
3.1 We respect the mysterious through the quality of humility. We interrogate the mysterious through the quality of curiosity.
3.2 In a mysterious universe, our working assumption must be: everything is possible.
3.3 If everything is possible, the power of our will can be exercised, its purpose is to exercise, the enactment of possibility for or toward our own good.
4. The mystery is both expressed with words and covered over with words.
4.1 The paradox, the difficulty, is to proceed with words while knowing that words are both revealing the mystery and concealing the mystery, both enlightening and blinding, both clarifying and darkening, both opening and closing.
4.2 Words are not all. Words service pictures. Words service feelings, which are primal, prior to words.
4.3 Wittgenstein in the Tractatus: Die Grenzen meiner Sprache bedeuten die Grenzen meiner Welt: the limits of my language imply the limits of my world. Each language game creates, demarks and sustains a world.
4.4 Language is often metaphor, the finding of suggestive equivalents for what we sense and perceive of the world; representing one thing by another thing; pointing a direction through indirection; approximating through allusion; identifying with subjective correlatives.
4.5 Language is often generalization and simplification. Or modification and complexification. Or abstraction and reification.
4.6 Language is often personal and subjective; words having connotations and meanings for one speaker or auditor that are at odds with another speaker or auditor.
4.7 Common language rarely takes the time, or exhibits the precision, necessary to fine-tune our understandings, to compare realities. As language is ambiguous and subjective, so is our understanding of each other, and the mysteries, ambiguous and subjective.
4.8 Most of our misunderstandings are misapprehensions of terminology. Most philosophical problems can be reduced to language problems.
4.9 Mathematics (symbolic logic) is the attempt to create the most objective, rational, and precise language possible.
5. The mystery is both in us and exterior to us.
5.1 The paradox and difficulty is in having only ourselves—with whatever experiences, sensibility, talents, limits and individuality we inevitably command—as the interrogator and assessor of the mystery; knowing that we are one of billions of humans, trillions of life forms, on one of untold trillions of planets.
5.2 We are always partial to the greater mystery. We are one aspect of the greater mystery. The greater mystery is always greater than us, if only because others are always greater than our single self, if only because otherness essentially swallows us by sheer volume. We are piecemeal in perpetual search for wholeness.
6. The need to understand is a given, a basic, a drive; we are driven to understand.
6.1 It could be argued that this need to understand is a metaphysical given, a spiritual drive, a spiritual quest. We are programmed to stand in awe before the mysterious; we are programmed to understand the mysterious.
6.2 To understand means: to investigate, to come to know, to find increasingly fundamental causes for, to successfully predict, to translate from one language to another (to rephrase), to assess importance and non-importance, to determine truth and non-truth, reality and non-reality; to apprehend context (relevant and irrelevant, essential and non-essential), to grasp systems (essential inclusion and exclusion, essential and interlocking connections), to know levels (conditions and contexts under which the identity or value of something changes or alters).
Those last three are similar enough to be thought of as the same: context, systems and levels.
6.3 To understand means to be content with one’s knowledge of something. Driving to understand is driving for this contentment.
6.4 It is obvious that the need to understand is a survival mechanism.
7. We are driven to survive.
7.1 We are driven to survive as biological entities, and as psychological and sociological entities. Any and all of that which constitutes our identity—family and kinship, gender, nation, religion, personality type—becomes what we’re willing to fight for, to secure, to defend from aggressors or threatening otherness.
7.2 To survive biologically means to avoid physical death, and all corollaries that intimate or threaten physical death or diminishment: pain, ill-health, bodily harm or injury, indifferent or indiscriminate power….
7.3 To survive as a psychological and sociological entity means to defend ourselves from loss of identity or ego, a kind of psychological death, and all corollaries that intimate or threaten psychological death: psychological pain, imposition of any realities, values, assessments that ignore, deny, judge, humiliate or otherwise seek to compromise the integrity of who we are or think we are.
7.4 Many people have chosen, and will choose, physical death before they will choose death of the identity, changes in their self-image.
8. To the individual driven to survive, everything and everyone is assessed most basically, as inimical and threatening, or as friendly and enhancing: does this thing, person, environment, situation, thought, value, entity threaten the integrity of my survival, physically or psychologically? Or do they enhance, support, reinforce and insure my survival? Neutrality on this axis, this polarity, must always be assumed as potential danger, until proven otherwise.
9. The need for knowledge and understanding, then, is driven first and foremost by the need to determine the extent to which something is inimical or supportive of us, threatening or non-threatening, depletive or enhancing, friend or foe.
9.1 Knowledge and understanding are also used to determine if something is useful or useless to us. The useful enhances our being, the useless either adds nothing or subtracts from our being.
10. The state of not-knowing is an anxiety. Anxiety is not-knowing. It is not knowing our degree of safety or security, not knowing the extent of threat in our environment, external or internal.
10.1 We do not like anxiety. We can not rest with anxiety. Anxiety is intimation of threat. Consequently, we seek to know, we seek the security of knowledge. Knowledge is power—among other things, power from anxiety.
10.2 But the more knowledge we have also means that we increase the knowledge of what threatens us, what may undo us, what is inimical or indifferent to us. Knowledge can thus increase our sense of threat. This is the paradox and the dilemma of humans—that knowledge can both increase or allay our sense of threat. For this reason, conscious entities will often, or of necessity, deny consciousness, refuse knowledge, seek or enforce ignorance, as ways to allay anxiety. Psychologically, this defense mechanism only pushes the anxiety into unconsciousness, where it will erupt or project itself in other and usually inappropriate ways.
11. The drive to survive could be called our will.
12. The watchwords, the indicators of the will, are: control and power.
12.1 To judge is to exercise will.
12.2 To judge is to impose value and meaning. We impute value and meaning relevant to ourselves—usually as a way to distinguish ourselves and our interests from someone else and their values, meanings and interest.
This has or has no value for me.
This is or is not meaningful to me.
I want or don’t want this.
I want this enough to…
I don’t want this enough to…
I would want this if it were changed in this way.
I’m glad I’m not like that person.
I’m not like that person.
I will insure that I’ll never be like that person.
I will work to never be in the position of that person.
I want to be like that person.
That person can assist me in getting where I want to go, be what I want to be.
These are all acts of discrimination based on judgment—in this case, discriminating between self and other.
12.4 One of the first steps away from solipsism, first steps toward respect of the other, is to recognize first and then act on value or meaning imputed by someone else. But how or why act on meaning imputed by others if it does not accord with our own values, with the meaning we’ve accepted for ourselves?
13. In the ideal world, my survival would be most enhanced by making everyone me, and everything non-threatening to, if not supportive of my existence. The will drives for this ideal.
13.1 The will drives to create the world in its image.
13.2 If I had all-power, all-control, I would be able to manage the world of things and the world of others so that all threat is minimized. I would be more powerful than any threat. I would be able to control any person or situation who intended threat. This is the goal that drives the survivor within us.
13.3 The myth here is the Norse myth of Balder. With this myth we introduce love. Balder was so loved by beings and things that his mother (archetype of unconditional love) was able to extract a promise from all things that they would not harm him. This is the condition to which the survivor in us aspires.
The gods thought it great sport to revel in Balder’s immunity. A game was made of them hurling their weapons of war at him as he stood, shining and beneficent, on the field, the weapons turning away from him at the last moment, as they had promised.
But the myth deepens when Loki—the personification of mischievousness deepened to evil—with his contrary will, guides the hand of Balder’s blind brother Hroder, to throw a spear fashioned from a mistletoe that Balder’s mother had thought too harmless to seek its promise. The mistletoe kills Balder. His brother kills Balder. Loki kills Balder. His mother’s lack-of-thoroughness kills Balder.
Balder is called the god of summer, innocence and purity. Was Balder’s innocence and purity partly responsible for his death? For he acquiesced to the game whereby he was killed; he died from the good-hearted trust he invested in others. Here is human fear and concern expressed: who is the enemy who will harm us? The world of things? The evil principle? Others? Friends? Kin? Ourselves? These open-ended questions remain unanswerable to the survivor in humans. Their unanswerability creates a basic existential anxiety: our death and destruction can come from any quarter—and in spite of all reasonable, or our best, efforts.
Or is the myth a demonstration that summer, innocence and purity are fated to falter and die?
14. The myth of Balder continues: his mother, refusing to give up hope, allows another of her sons to go to the place of the dead, Hela’s realm, and petition her to release Balder back into life. It will be done, says Hela, if everything on earth weeps for him. Everything on earth is only too willing to oblige…except for an old giantess witch, otherwise identified as Loki in transformation. “Balder has never done any good for me, why should I do good for him?” By refusing to weep for him, Loki, who engineered his death, condemns him to death permanently.
14.1 This shows that there is always an opposing principle to us in the universe. Whether we call it evil, hazard, balance, cruelty, indifference, or basal otherness, there is always that in the world who will not weep for us, who manifests either indifference or opposition to our being.
Though we be perfect, be good as the God of goodness, there will always be at least one thing inimical to our survival. Since we are not perfect, all good, all loved, we know there are many things indifferent or inimical to our survival.
14.2 The great monotheistic religions personify this conflict by personifying God. As the most powerful agent in the universe, God is said to be pleased with our goodness. Being good is said to insure God’s pleasure and protection. Opposed to this good is the evil principle, usually personified as the Devil.
14.3 Unfortunately, the lived life proves more complicated than this simple construction. And so we are confronted with the great problematic: what of bad things happening to good people?
Theological speculation suggests a theory akin to that of the myth of Balder: even God is, or even the gods are, powerless before the opposition principle in the universe.
14.4 The Bible intimates this theme by stating that God is no respecter of persons. The evil giantess who would not weep for Balder, and Balder the good, have equal time, equal weight and worth before the laws of the universe.
The laws of the universe are no respecter of persons.
15. One of the most fundamental structures of the universe is ambivalence, ambi-valence, both valences: nothing is pure, single or isolated in itself, but comes accompanied by its opposite, or by shades of alterity. Everything is a mix. There can be no thing abstracted from its contrasting or opposite thing.
15.1 I do not mean only existence and non-existence (thus refuting Aristotelian logic), I mean the thing as value and its contrasting value. I mean the basic polarities: light/darkness, good/evil, pleasure/pain, male/female, left/right, love/hatred, life/death, energy/entropy.
15.2 To diagram this totality I use a circle. At the top of the circle is the positive value, at the bottom a negative value. The circle represents the totality of any one thing, a thing and its polarity. The circle also illustrates the space between the opposite values. Call it the circle of black-and-white; the space between the zenith and nadir would be represented by shades of grey.
The circle is essentially a continuum, from top to bottom, white to black—and then another continuum from bottom to top, black to white. One’s position on the circle, or one’s relation with the circle, is one of motion; a metaphor that every one thing is characterized by mix and movement.
15.3 I call reality, or the reality of any one thing, the complete circle—which incorporates not only the thing and its antipode, but every step, gradation, impurity and mix along the way between the poles. To the extent that we have experienced or know this circle is the extent to which we are circumspect. Wisdom of oversight is circumspection.
15.4 One of the curses of our existence is that we are inclined to seek ripeness without rot, life without death, joy without sorrow. Knowing the mechanism of ambi-valence, however, entails devising strategies for living with the antipodes. Many strategies have been devised.
15.5 Question: at any moment is there a balance in the universe between the two poles? How would we know? Even if there was a balance, the balance would be active, not static.
16. One of our basic organizing principles of apprehension and comprehension I call Levels.
16.1 A level is usually thought of hierarchically—as a building is constructed, the top levels dependent on the foundation of lower levels. Or as a pyramid, the lower levels being more broad and supportive, the higher levels more narrow and refined. These are useful metaphors. But I seek to expand the metaphor into something more mental.
16.2 A level is a configuration of space and time.
16.3 A level is a manifold of inclusion and exclusion.
16.4 A level is a focus upon a given point of the circle,
16.5 A level is context, an inclusion and exclusion of the relevant facts.
16.6 A level is a perspective, a take, a set, a grid, a construct, a worldview, a world.
16.6 A level can be both a natural limitation of space-and-time, or a human imposition, a reduction of the larger structures for the purpose of management.
16.61 Though we draw from an inevitably unknown ocean of un-and-sub-consciousness, and a potential memory of everything we’ve experienced or witnessed in our lives, human consciousness is a narrow spigot, necessarily limited.
16.62 The structures, limits, contexts, ordering systems, and divisions we insist upon are often for the purpose of efficacy in management, means of concentration. We place nozzles on the hose of our consciousness, delimiting what we can manage or concentrate on at any given time, and so abetting our efficacy at achieving our task, at implementing our will.
17. So far as we know, we are the most conscious creatures on this planet, and the most potentially conscious.
17.1 Consciousness is awareness, knowledge, perspication, circumspection, attentiveness, self-reflection, memory, wisdom….
17.2 Consciousness is also of choice, or semblance of choice; choice gives us control, or semblance of control.
17.21 Control, or semblance of control, gives us freedom or semblance of freedom.
17.22 But we are free, we know, in an unfree world. We are ultimately unfree because of the limits imposed on us by the physical and biological world, if nothing else. We are unfree by being one entity, with its peculiar and distinguishing limits, in a world of billions of entities with alternative capacities and limits. These entities remind us endlessly that we are not them, that we can not be them, that we have to be only ourselves.
17.23 We can see otherness. We can imagine otherness. Imagination, in fact, gives us the illusion of freedom and limitlessness within the world where consciousness shows our obvious limitations. This discrepancy leads to dynamics of anxiety and frustration.
18. Because consciousness (of “everything”) is too great a space to work with, is a form of madness, physiologically and psychologically we create, and need to create, categorical exclusions to consciousness. We create the illusion of limits in our consciousness. I call these categories of exclusion “levels.”
18.1 Levels are used to coordinate the limitless potential consciousness (for it draws on the limitless sub & un-consciousness, which draws from the limitless mystery of the multiverse) with the limits of space and time that comprise the world in general, and our own worlds in particular.
18.2 Levels are the demonstration that consciousness is a hand that can grab anything, but only a limited amount of anything at any given time.
18.3 Levels are the constructs we keep forgetting are constructs.
18.4 Levels are the metaphors we work with, or work within, often forgetting the metaphorical nature of our apprehensions.
18.5 The best analogy of this for me is the story of the blind men and the elephant. Our hands grab the tail and we spend our life in passionate conviction, or debate, positing the elephant (any given thing, the universe itself) as a tail, a rope, a snake, a phallus, a swishing movement, a jump rope, string theory…. The constructions can be limitless, though we begin with a limited impression.
18.51 We keep forgetting that we are blind. Or, we keep pretending that we aren’t blind, for the sheer horror of being blind. But then we compound our blindness by being too quick to “see” with what senses are available to us at any given time, a common strategy for dealing with our blindness. It is said that no one is so blind as those who will not see. It could be said, no less, that no one is so blind as those who think they see, or see too quickly, or see only that in front of their noses, or who don’t see that before their noses. There are many forms, many levels of blindness.
18.52 If we were to concentrate on how blind we are, we would be ridden with anxiety from the fact of all we can not see, all we do not know. And so we forget, or ignore, or otherwise repress what we can not see, what we do not know. We make such noise, holding to what we think we see and hope we know.
19. The greatest, broadest, most inclusive levels of all are called paradigms.
19.1 A paradigm is a level so large that it looks like the whole. One can only suspect the existence of paradigms while one is in them, can only see them once one is outside of them.
19.2 In the blind-men-and-the-elephant analogy, it is actually the elephant who is the paradigm—if one supposes, for this comparison, that the blind men are assessing the elephant convinced it is the universe. How many years of debate would ensue before the descendants of the blind men turned to pet the cat, and so discover another paradigm?
19.3 A paradigm is the Roman numeral “I”, under which all other levels are numbered 1 to infinity, or A to Z, or….
19.4 A paradigm is Newton’s universe subsumed by Einstein’s universe, Aristotelian logic subsumed by Symbolic logic, Earth-as-center-of-the-universe supplanted by sun-as-center-of-the-solar-system. These are examples of big paradigms, but paradigms needn’t be so big at all.
19.5 Paradigms, by being levels, are divisions of the whole, reductions of the whole, limitations of the whole. They are assumptions so broad and general that they act as blinders to the whole. Their very broadness obfuscates the broader contexts.
19.6 We work within the levels of a given paradigm until frustration indicates that the paradigm isn’t working, and so needs changing. Newtonian physics works up to a point, the point one needs to shift levels into Einsteinian physics.
20. The money of the universe is energy. Energy is what is spent. Energy is what is transacted.
If the universe is a closed system, as is suggested, then energy is not destroyed and created so much as transformed and exchanged.
20.1 Energy, like money, is power. When two bodies close in proximity, power is exchanged.
20.2 One such exchange mechanism is called osmosis, the flow from imbalanced bodies seeking balance. This is also the mechanism of entropy—the leveling-out force that seeks to mediate all energy and matter.
21. To act is to spend energy. Energy leaves a trail like money leaves a trail.
22. Energy is the life-force of the universe. It is the animation of the universe. It is vitality itself.
22.1 The universe is rife with energy, but its presence is relative, localized, within greater manifolds of vacuum.
23. There are forms of energy, e.g., biologic (“life”), emotional forms, atomic forms, mental forms, spiritual forms….
24. Energy seeks perpetuation, and fears its own depletion.
25. There are, generally, three states of energy in people: energy deficiency, energy sufficiency, and energy proficiency. Such states can be acute, a measure of any given time; or they can be chronic, generalized, a matter of sensibility, personality or temperament.
25.1 Energy states in people manifest as a kind of behavior, a style. As a matter of temperament, people can be classified by these states.
25.2 Those who are deficient or sufficient tend to be either attracted or repulsed by the proficient; attracted if they find it possible to draw some of the proficient’s energy their way, and repulsed if they find the energy of the proficient to be draining, exhausting.
25.3 Even the proficient in energy realize that proficiency is suspect, for it (a) exists in a greater world of deficiency, and is thus threatened by osmotic entropy and (b) it is inconstant; it can be depleted or lost.
25.4 The successful in life are often characterized by their energy, an energy of the type that can generate energy in others. Successful entertainers, creators, businessmen, athletes, etc. are persons of uncommon energy. Their products are manifestations or encapsulations of that energy. People are drawn to them because to be in their presence, or to experience their products, is to receive their energy, to feel added energy in themselves.
25.5 An equally valuable perspective is that energy is actually impersonal. It is something spiritual or metaphysical, the metaphorical breath of God (inspiration). People, then, are mere vehicles, chambers, for this universal energy. It is not something that one possesses, like a chair or a book, but is a gift of the universe, bestowed either indiscriminately (grace) or through worthiness, karmically.
25.6 Under this perspective, those of high energy are not passing on their energy per se, but are affecting the receptors, others, in such a way as to make them better vehicles, more effective chambers, opening them up to the breath of God. Thus they inspire and awaken the other person to the energy available. This is the spiritual bias or conceit.
26. To talk of energy, as to talk of anything, is to talk on levels. There is energy as a primal, universal, abstract, mysterious, ineffable force, for instance. And there are the specific forms, configurations and positions it takes: Work is energy. Fire is energy. Creation is energy. Beauty is energy. Knowledge is energy. Ideas are energy. Life is energy. Sex is energy. Love is energy. Hate is energy. Anger is energy. Boredom is NOT energy.
27. Everything that takes place in the universe takes place according to laws. There is nothing that takes place outside of the jurisdiction of laws.
28. Laws determine the sequence and positioning of things in space-time. Laws determine consequences to all acts, which, in turn, are consequences to prior acts. Laws illustrate cause and effect.
29. Laws underlie our sense of reason, our belief in reason. To the extent we conceptualize a universe of law, is the extent to which we feel the universe can be rationally interrogated.
29.1 Science is our greatest methodology for determining the laws, the rationality, of the universe.
30. Laws, too, exist on levels: lesser laws serve under greater laws. Lesser laws serve lesser contexts but derive from greater laws and greater contexts.
30.1 It may be, therefore, that the greatest laws look remarkably lawless to us. The greatest laws may be freedom-of-will, or faith’s freedom-to-create. These freedoms do not imply a lack of consequences to the exercise of such freedoms. All free acts are followed by unfree consequences; that’s the very nature of law.
31. My current suspicion is that the laws of energy-and-entropy are the most basic, underlying or essential laws of all.
32. We are free to do whatever we will with ourselves alone. Our life and death are ours to command.
32.1 We are free to do anything in the imagination we will.
33. Ethics come into play, are engaged, if and only if, when and only when, our behavior impacts the bodies, lives or rights of others.
34. Like the Hippocratic oath, the ethical injunction can be said to be two-fold: first, do no harm. Secondly, do good.
34.1 To practice this injunction, however, necessitates knowledge or consciousness—if nothing else, knowledge of the difference between harm and good, in any given instance.
34.2 To accomplish this ethical injunction entails investigating and knowing the laws. The more conscious we are, the more responsibility we must take. To increase consciousness, then, is the initial step in the ethical act.
35. To take responsibility for one’s actions in the world, one’s harmful and good acts, is to make choices, intending the consequences of those choices.
36. Ethical injunctions are designed to minimize consequences that most people do not want to, or, even, can not bear responsibility for.
36.1 But ethical injunctions also comprise a province of applicability and non-applicability; they also exist on levels. There is, for instance, the level of injunction that is designed to minimize consequences that people should not take responsibility for.
36.2 I have in mind the so-called God responsibilities: exploitation and death (of others); or, even, any control, manipulation or will imposed over anyone else with lesser control, knowledge or strength, especially wherein such influence brings someone else pain and unhappiness, or otherwise denies them the full exercise of their humanity or dignity.
36.3 But, in fact, all societies are organized by setting up levels of authority—authorities—whose jobs are to take responsibility for the God acts: parents to children, teachers to students, police to populace, Government to citizens. These are all essential to the usual social contracts, contracts that are essential to any group where strength, knowledge and power are relative and inequal.
36.4 But whenever humans take on the God responsibilities, human gods make human mistakes: mistakes in motivation, mistakes in execution, mistakes in consciousness.
37. The great ethical mechanism: each level of accumulative knowledge demands a corresponding level of accumulative responsibility for the consequences of one’s being and one’s acts.
37.1 For this reason many people choose ignorance or unconsciousness—the mechanism Sartre has labeled “bad faith”. This leads to the second mechanism: to refuse knowledge or consciousness does not absolve one of the responsibility for one’s being or acts.
37.2 The reason this is so is because of the laws. The laws are in effect whether one claims knowledge or consciousness of them or not. There are inevitable, de facto, consequences to all things—which must be borne, whether consciously or unconsciously, intended or unintended.
37.3 The ethical injunction is to gain and act on all possible knowledge and consciousness of one’s being, and the implications of one’s actions in the world, so that others are not left bearing unfavorable or unfair consequences to one’s acts.
37.4 Unfavorable? Does this imply that positive consequences borne by others for our acts are ethical? Yes, it does imply that. Positive consequences passed on (or allowed for) others is considered grace, a gift, and does not carry the ethical onus. (But the right to define “unfavorable” and “positive” remain with the recipient of the action, not the actor.)