Categories and Taxa
Goodness and Malignity
Theories and Actuality
Real and Actual
But can you Prove you Exist?
How Many Tracks?
How the World Works
Aspects of Change
The Body and the Knowing-I
The Invention of Evil
Nature and Human Nature
Eschatology and Nihilism
What Is vs. What Cannot Be
The Actual: Every time I read some of Hegel or one of his descendents who proclaim they are studying what is, or what really is, or who writes phenomenologically so I can tease myself into thinking that reading is like thinking processes or like what really is, really, I feel like I do not understand. What is the problem that this declaration of what really is, is made…over and over, and over again? What is the un-real that we are now supposed to, urged to, look for the real? (I suspect, as well, that some notion of what is the present, when is the now of the here and now, is much more problematic than a modest intellectual comfort would allow!)
On the other hand, I have been faced on two occasions recently with what turned out to be a positive defense of studying and teaching the world as it is. Perhaps I have gotten carried away with the notion of being protected as a professor in the reclusive nooks and crannies of academe. Perhaps I have become enamored with the notion of Performance: of doing what I do, essentially in the Public Domain, or of relating the University to Society, or of looking for some audience in the at-large.
I have (and am) in any case an interest in the Present Age; in the now of here and there and everywhere; a strong sense of an ongoing present. But – the problem is – the strains and straits of academe, trying to carve out a place of strength and ownership and the what-ness of an institution which is no longer in favor, wants to retreat. Worried, I guess, that scholarship is being attacked or afraid that they have no existence except within their academic genealogies, they attack me and mine for teaching the actual – the what is, as if this is at odds, at war with the texts which inform society, the present.
Ideas, in the books and texts of all of time, of no time within all of time, this is what they proclaim is their study. I, they say, am pragmatic. I, bemused, accept that descriptive title, feeling that ideas are informed by, tested in, resonate within some actual, some real, where they can work, where they can fail. They, dealing in ideas informed by some genealogy, some history which has become its own truth in veneration, seem to find any actual a little seedy, a bit tawdry, and its practitioners cloaked in veils of the same cloth: seedy, tawdry, salesmen turned to pseudo-thinkers, hyping some visions of what sells, driving out the good goods with an inferiority of…of the pragmatic, the actual, of what is.
I am sympathetic, compassionate, want to know, curious to a fault wanting to understand where we are and how we got here; wanting to teach and study all the texts and histories, but am cast into the pragmatic, the applied: the opposite, somehow, of some poorly cast Platonism calculated to obscure as much as to light-up.
They, in the name of defending ideas, of methods, gather arrogance like the lint-balls which form on wool garments, an aura around their persons, glowing. I – always mis-placed or unplaced or still searching – want to know how the world works, what is right, what is correct, what is knowing, and how do I search for truth or for wisdom, by whatever its occurring, first defend, then attacked, attack, then think and look and write and wonder even while I prefer knowing, or arguing.
Or…I am posing, trying desperately to save reality by seeking synonyms and apologyms acceptable to those who think words savor power.
Framing Reality: Plato (following Pythagoras following Parmenides…) seems to have figured out a way to frame the nature of reality in such ways as to take us away from our bodily experience, and to proclaim as (really) real, that which is unchanging, formal, idea(l)s. The real becomes the real of the imagined and of the imagination.
It is, for the moment at least, less interesting to see how this happens than to be truly astonished that it could happen at all. How is it that anyone, any particular mode of thought and being, could replace or derogate other modes. We are all of the above, all of our being: imagination and experience.
Moreover, this move set up the subsequent development: that we begin/began to question our very existence. If our true reality is that of the imagination, of the essential in being which is knowing the unchanging forms, then the actuality of being is diminished – going, going,…That is, the framing of reality as forms, as a story about being, seems to have attacked actual being, bodily being which is clearly capable of snorting and farting as well as doing advanced mathematics. It is as if we find some reality by standing(!) outside of experience and then diminish bodily experience as if giving into desires is what is wrong with life. So we have learned to define reality and then treat that definition as if it is reality…itself.
This has been accomplished by splintering (bodily) experience into two opposing categories, and raising the one while diminishing the other (if done actively or passively, it will make a difference to the development of subsequent thought): mind over body, body beneath mind. By doing this, by diminishing the category, apparently we are able to make the lesser diminish to disappearance. While this solved (for Plato) the problem of death by banishing it, this framing of reality works by making life appear chimerical.
Obviously(!), we are mind and body, both, in some relationship which is from time to time, situation, and circumstance, paradoxical. Is the possibility of framing reality to include, thence to exclude, aspects of being, a result of resolving some paradox? How then do we recognize paradox? Where, in our experience, is paradox located?
Categories And Taxa: Categories intercept, perhaps actualize the perceptual. Categories (Aristotle: Organum) are about definitions located at once in the world, in language, in ourselves. Categories are, particularly, about how we see and actualize the world; as others do…as well.
Categories are sets of words which have/share a commonness (into which we read…). This commonness is at once abstract and located in the world that is actual. A category is a definition, a gathering principle, derived from or attributed to the words and their referents-meanings.
The categories are each well-delimited and bounded, but indefinite in the size of their membership: at once finite and infinite.
The delimitation of categories has to do with how others (parents, the parental generation) already delimits the world: thus the actual is how adults conceptualize the world. The actual and the real may thus coincide or be somewhat different. The actual consists of how we/I/you conceptualize the world in terms of categories: what is this object, this one, that it is a …? What is this particular object that it – this man (dog) is like others of its kind; i.e., its category?
Talk – i.e., sentences, phones, etc. – is intrinsically located in the actual, not in the real. Talk is to/with other persons, thus within the structure of the actual. Talk consists of words or other units (i.e., members of categories) tied together syntactically in an order which is generally not located in the actual (or irrelevant to it.) Thus a sentence is not a syntactic string of words but a string of members of syntactically ordered categories which a speaker and hearer will understand in equivalent ways. Members of categories are existentially very well constrained, and very little arbitrary. That is, in any particular setting, the words to be used are more, rather than less, definite (contra Saussure).
Goodness and Malignity: At first men imposed their own personalities on Nature: everywhere they themselves and their like, i.e., their own evil and capricious temperaments, hidden, as it were, behind clouds, thunder-storms, wild beasts, trees, and plants: it was then they declared Nature was evil. Afterwards there came a time, that of Rousseau, when they sought to distinguish themselves from Nature: they were so tired of each other that they wished to have separate little hiding places where man and his misery could not penetrate: then they invented ‘nature is good.’
Dawn of Day – #17
If we can control the definition of nature and the definition of human nature, can we control destiny; the idea of destiny; the idea of human nature? (Where are we, am I, within these sand castles, rising higher as the waters of narrative wash in upon my feet?)
Theories And Actuality: Three economic theories over three centuries illuminate (he said) many things about the city and how we live our lives. But there is somehow a gap of some size between the theories, the depictions and the actualities of living which is so much more dense, more particulated than the theories (Sam Bass Warner).
I wondered what that meant: how do people act, what do they do, and now do they conceive being and doing? What is the relation between motivational psychologies and social life? Have these theories (e.g., Adam Smith, Marx, Veblen) encompassed some surreptitious social descriptions in their theories of individual action? On what are these based – new times, new societies; old theories? Where are the connections, what the fabric between self and society in terms of economic survival and/or success?
This disconnection, the attempt to claim that theories would lead to some deeper knowing, reminded me of a talk by (I. Cohen) an historian of science, talking about the history of anatomical illustration. It seems that the body, fully dissected and in front of expert eyes was still not explicable until a series of graphic depictions (not necessarily directly mapping the body) of the interconnections were gradually developed or invented. That is, we could not see what there is until we (gradually?) learned about seeing in some new ways. Is this true of the city, the actual…as well?
Still we know what is the body, its outlines and boundaries; understand that it exists in some senses as an entity with integrity. We can touch it, photograph it, and imagine it within the scale(s) of life as we are it, just the same size.
What models, what graphics, what depictions would help us to see the city? Is a city an entity in much the same senses as the body? Is either the body or the city the same as reality – the same as the actual?
Real And Actual: I use the notion of actual to refer more to my experiential/existential being, and the word real to designate some framework of thought in which more widespread concepts of being are ensconced.
It is not at all clear that I/we experience the world directly, unenhanced or cast within expressions and theories about the world. It is not clear, even, that we live exactly within the present, bound as we are by our definitions of ourselves in terms of past notions of who we would/should be, in terms of future concepts of might or would have been. The actual is the word I use for the closest approximation to my experiencing that I can dredge out of my most careful and honest being self.
The notion of the real (and of reality) has been used, in Western thought at least, as a framework in terms of which we calculate our being. It forms a theory at once of the nature of being human as well as a measured notion of who and what we are, why we are, where we have been, and whence we go. It has seemed to me that since Parmenides we have fallen in love with the human imagination, surprised somehow that we have extension beyond our material being, and wishing to make this ability into a theory of transcendence: a deity, notions of purpose and causation, a sense of being caused more by powers and agency outside of the human condition, than by the actual facts of our being conceived, born, growing and changing in ways we tend to diminish even as we cast our development within metaphorical histories, rather than in noting how we live.
In the Pythagorean/Platonic tradition (Republic X), we already have diminished our being (e.g., we are in the habitual framework of measuring the size of our being), by contrasting life with the ideality of the true reality of the forms of the formal, and the ideas of the ideality.
My principal objection to the notion of the real over the actual is that in submitting to the concept of our being which is derived and diminishing, we grow ever smaller even as we increase in age and conceptual power, searching for some directed end more than engaging in living…itself. Attempted solutions such as Kierkegaard’s suggesting that we live as if we are/were the Christ of the New Testament or as the Overperson of Nietzsche never quite come back to our own being sufficient to the task of overcoming the real. My meditations on…Next Places seems to me more cast in the actual than these others. But there are a variety of visions existing upon this earth which tell and foretell how to be at one with oneself and with the earth and with others: Ameridian, Confucian which less portray the necessity of an external utopia than the Western Christian and Islamic which necessitate the directness of an eschatology to tell us who and that we are.
In the actual we are unquestionably existent; whereas the real casts doubt upon our being and forces us to think upon death (Plato Phaedo) as a locus for theories of being and of knowing. In the real we tend to think from our being as static, while the actual is ongoing and changing and becoming and the problematic is more in growth and directedness and living each day…sufficiently.
“But can you Prove you Exist?” - he shouted gleefully…almost. A certain deepened sense of cynicism finding no objects placed in text by-passing experience turning into a nihilism which challenged any notion of reality. The speaker, a foreign thinker from another country, another tradition, could not respond to this not exactly self-assured attack. The speaker, a Confucianist, returned to his first principles, beginning with an experientially loaded statement of his own being and presence: how else would we be here, how else could we now, think, consider? The academic-turned-scholastic wanting certainty following from texts removed from experience, finding none because there was none he could find, retreated to a plaintive self-assault secure in the knowledge of no knowledge.
What answer could satisfy when the actuality of the common presence of speaker and questioner did not speak for itself?
Why, I asked, did people question their own existence when existence and experience is the be-all and end-all of life and of knowledge? Is it a fear of death (or a fear of the fear of…?) which stands life on its head, easier to deny life than to deal with the fear (of fear?)? Is it a belief in texts being the beginning point of all being, writing over being, which leads us down this path toward nothingness? Is it some realization of the vastness of knowledge which no one of us can master which reduces each person to insignificance, questioning existence? Is it the sense of an uncaring Nature where chance is a cosmic jokester placing us here on earth…pointlessly?
No! Existence is its own proof, needing as well the testimony of the generations, of mother and families to certify. The I am is sustained by the moral acts of others who raise us to survive when infancy is not yet its own guarantee. This is why I exist, and needs no further explanation nor apologetic. Just who is reading this or asking the question of existence, except someone who is?
[A lecture-question-anti-dialogue between Wei Min Tu and Bruce Lincoln]
Analogous Paradoxes – on hearing a talk just yesterday on The Critique of Cynical Reason I wondered if the Platonic paradox of examining life by grasping personal death applied as well to the examination of cynical thought; that, to understand cynicism one must move to the outer edges of cynicism, grasping life and experience as the ultimate cosmic joke?
I asked the author where he found himself standing; where, that is, is his position grounded? He said he found himself floating, trying only to show the dialectic tension between idealism and existentialism.
I, sensing his Angst – an existential Angst it appeared – suggested that was exactly the paradox: that he couldn’t find grounding, having become the cynic’s cynic, and was drifting toward an idealism which he claimed (& believed?) he was refuting. He, declaring (over and over and over and…) the end of metaphysics, suggesting an examination of the body (orality), stuck in the scholarship of scholarship, withdrawing from his own experience, trying to please, berated, cajoled, condemned, but took us nowhere we had not already been. “What if some (ghost of) philosophy entered this room in the next moment or two, some new philosopher, would you recognize her/him?” I asked. He smiled wanly.
The banishment, the denial of morality, also an aspect of the position, he declared. There was (is) no morality. It (morality) always turned strategic. “Show me a moral person and I would believe it, accept it,” he declared.
I, challenged with the current Christian Fundamentalist’s – strategy to be sure – by acting out of what seemed perfectly moral to them. “No,” he stuttered, “they weren’t really moral.” I retorted that he, having banished the category of morality, would not see it even if it were to…
Is this form of scholarship of necessity a kind of intellectual voyeurism? Or…?
How Many Tracks? – How many tracks, like trains, do we run in our mind’s thinking, in our being’s being (Wm James’ stream of consciousness)? It has seemed to me that most of us run two or more at once, simultaneously: at the least, how others consider(ed) us to be – and – how we are internally. We may run more, if idealists, if the present visible world is not the entirety; how it is, and how it might, or ought to be…5, 10,…
Yet we do not seem obviously splintered, clearly lacking coherence. The stream of consciousness has no clear forks, no exact places where brooklets of thought conjoin, leave, or run in parallel courses. Our minds do not split exactly, like the schizophrenic of dissociated character (Eve’s three faces or Sybil’s several selves).
I think (about) this, about those other things, the ideas running in motion, apparently, much of the time, then surfacing at another place much like loons’ divings. Some tracks seem most pleasant and I like to call upon them to loll in, to help to banish the unpleasantries, to put myself to sleep or fill-in idle time or the boredom of repetitive exercises. Others bring senses of sadness, or warn of panic, of mistakes, of wishes I had not had or deeds I had not done. Some tracks seem past or in some other eventness; others, fantasies which alter bodily feeling, other sheer feelings whose turn is to stimulate particular thought arenas and other tracks.
Sitting here writing down a particularity of linear coherence, my mind’s tracks go on. How many? What directions do they go, on what planes, in which geometries do they gravitate? On which ones are being, imagination, loves and lusts and fears and fantasies and myths and…?
Not obviously dissociated, the foundational persona of my being asks how I hold this thing of being together. I suspect it is an active process(es) – reinventing myself each little while or each next day, and that the truth of truth will not be seen until we note this modality of regeneration within our being.
How The World Works: Any one theory, any over-arching scheme for observation, description, and analysis will not tell us how the world works. Only the world can tell us, and only if we [can] listen and hear. At any one time, in any moment in the history and flow of history, the details are too spread out, not yet congealed or consolidated, so they are difficult to gather. In any moment there is a little here, some over there, a glimpse, a promise. Some issues are cyclical, generational, and we must study to know just where we are within them; some involved in how we know others’ knowing us and our knowing…Even if we listen, even hear, to grasp the flow is to think we remain motionless in the Heraclitean river, not noticing the stationary banks, however close or distant. Not noticing ourselves not noticing ourselves…
Frankly – between you and me – this is not to say that the world doesn’t work, that some sense of flow or of determinism is not everywhere actual, but that different parts, different aspects and modes partake of existence differentially: from different perspectives/histories/contexts within a variety of logics, attending now to one, next to another of these shapes or frameworks; hearing corrective voices, plotting strategy, or reacting merely.
Not every person partakes in an independency of reality in any total sense. We are of a kind of oneness while yet moving in particulate manners. In figuring the working of the world, we can only remain some aspect of it, while yet finding some position without; change, yet remain grounded in the abstraction of observation from which we operate – Olympian and mundane: making the exotic, ordinary; and the mundane, exotic.
Recent attacks and implosions on the certitude of scientific knowledge seem more to stem from the insistence of questions of human (one’s personal) existence, and the arrogances of a little knowing goes a long way, than that there is no knowledge. All this recalls to us the necessity to rethink human nature and the foundations of our knowing just at this historical moment.
Aspects Of Change: Who I am in any moment has many aspects while yet being one: a sufficient integrity. What changes is, what changes in me is no mere contradiction, no argumentorium or antithesis, though this may also work to change…me.
Here am I, yes; not, here I am, no!
What’s new? What attracts, pulls, catches my attention? Fashion, style, beauty pulls. Ugliness repels, repulses; flying bats bring out the fear places within me ducking all the while. Do I yield? A question of yielding? (Is ritual, religion a non-yielding? – a resistance to a pull which tries to regenerate a stasis, a re-search for some (earlier) integrity?)
But to be pulled, even to begin to dwell outside…but, to dwell, outside? Where is that?
Here am I, yes, being struck by fancy, pulled persuaded by a form. I, substantial, content-ed, am altering…myself? Who am I, now; then? Will I rejoin myself, pull back? Will I re-incorporate, or merely grow…older?
Here am I. What’s new is now old-er. No surprise, no pull; for it is me, am I. I was not yet, now partake in…Not rejected, not exactly accepted. What was style, was vanity, now is who I am, now changed from before, not noticed. Ready, in-ready, for new forms.
[…a gloss on the form-content issue as a partial (large?) explanation of change. But it is not necessarily linear (nor progressive in any consistent sense) because each adoption of new content alters being and identity substantially, and what is next (now) form, may be very different from what was form, previously; why the transcendental temptation is ever at work within us.]
Bed-Rock: The issue of there being a purely objective world which exists outside of my/our being continues to locate what might be called reality. Much of the ink of philosophical history has been spilt, like the milk of human (un)kindness, over this so-called issue. As if solving the problem of reality will tell us something more about…what much of the history problem is what it might tell us…about. Maybe it is all our individual story, representation; the world is how we make it to be, and nature is a story which our minds tell our minds in some inner dialogue which has no participation. The Stoic, the Tao at work trying to deal with one’s feelings tamed. Sensing all there is, at war with being too sensitive for my own good. Maybe…
I reach-out and touch the world; the world pushes back. There, now, doesn’t that prove its existence? Well enough for some. But there are others, many who have emerged particularly in the West, who are then urged to wonder about proving their own existence. “If only,” muses Wittgenstein, “if only I could prove my right hand…” (My right hand, busily typing this missive, wonders if this Wittgenstein couldn’t write, or eat, or wipe his…?! Probably he was left-handed and this was a left-handed accounting for right-eous behavior.)
In other words, much of the desired proof for the existence of the world of reality pushes back on offering, then finding acceptable, proof of my own (anyone’s) being – and even further, of the sort of proof which would somehow guarantee the existence of some deity, who would in turn certify ours. It – the problem of reality – is then, not merely proof, but authoritative certifications that I exist to know the world which exists…somewhat, but not exactly completely, independently of me or you or anyone or anything. Self-authorization, sufficient authority that I trust myself to know knowing? Identity or reality; identity versus reality?
The problem of the issue is, then, that the question of the nature of any external objective reality has resided upon the more hidden surreptitious issue of whether anyone exists, whether the deity exists, and so on; and also, on what might constitute proof: some complicated chain of thinking, usually, about the nature of what causality might mean precisely. This issue has become particularly complicated, even poignant, with the rise of television, in wbich we have lost the sense of place, of our geometrification of world and boundaries; one’s extent ironically grows globally even as our being grows more isolated.
Since Hume, at least, the skepticism about knowing causality has tended to split the problem into the two camps of those who deal with science and merely assume something about reality, and those who concentrate exclusively on the place of the human: knowledge, language, narratives, and all that. A lot of issues – many of which might bear on the so-called problem – seem to fall into the interstices of skepticism, a place inhabited perhaps by the stench or perfumes of all the sensory stuff which both frightens and intrigues us.
The bed-rock, at bottom…there is no bed-rock. It is either infinitely thick/thin, or retreats especially as we move toward it. We can model it, but cannot assure ourselves that it…is. A right hand, give it to me and I can prove anything; everything.
The Body And The Knowing-I: Obvious! Astonishing! The Western (but others also) temptation to act as if the human – each I – is particularly the stuff by which we know knowing, and is particularly not the stuff which is my body-I, never fails to amaze me.
What amazes me even more is that most other thinkers do not think as I think, but relegate the body to some realm away from the knowing-I: material, mechanical; likened either to other living but non-human creatures, or to some machine, increasingly portrayed as a computer/robot which has been built by us to look just as we look, feel as we feel, think as we…?
The simulacrum become I become simulacrum. (Text-as-world)
Perhaps the primary problem in probing the nature of reality – for us – is that we have calculated being human within a very narrow and particular calculus: an oppositional dualism in which the bag-o’-bones which we are is relegated to some place in a reality which is known by some other aspect of our being: the mind – which is definitively not the body.
Perhaps it, as Plato says, houses the mind. And if we remain somehow within Platonic thinking about being, it is linked precisely and particularly with non-being (Sophist): either associated or driven by calculations about (personal?) death. Plato’s philosopher is instructed to keep his(!) eye upon life from the after-life and to work continually and rigorously at excluding the body from existence lest the desires, lusts, and loves, and sicknesses interfere with our ability to think and to know.
To know, therefore, is to know what is external to our being physical-material. The objective world, in this construction, would seem to be primarily (ontologically prior) physical and to include our being only as a kind of second-order distancing of the body. As it were, we are cautioned to watch our bodily being; a looking-out from the mind’s eye or the eye’s mind; location as dislocation.
If, as I think, at least some aspects of the problematic of reality is due/related to some analysis of being human, then the notion that the body and intellection are not related, not the same, has to be probed at length in order to begin to determine how the issue of reality has been cast: rather, mis-cast!
But – the body – is, at Nietzsche also says, what there is and all there is, and the mind is some story about the body. The fact is that the body and intellection are one and the same. To leave the body out of our stories and theories about thinking and the mind and what is human, is to leave a great deal of surreptitious theory wandering about infiltrating our thinking but not probed to any depth. How can we claim to be depicting reality when we do not work at accurately depicting ourselves, the interpreter of that reality?
(A century post Nietzsche, we know more, know better: the body exists within a world of other bodies; the individual physical body, the knowing individual emerges from sociality; not the Hobbesian joining-with, but our being is emergent and continuously in a complicated dialectic with others and a moving self.)
Nature: Similarly to the body, nature is depicted as being outside of our being human. Or – within the Western dualism – nature is the bodily expression of our being, with the emphatic claim that the truly knowing human stands outside of nature: described in the context of various terms all of which are in some opposition to nature: culture, art, artificial, linguistic (= rational, epistemological, logical, meaning, conscious, etc.). Nature is either what precedes culture (et al), or logically what follows and is left over residually after we have done the analysis of what we are that nature is not. So even when we grant some existence to nature which is prior to being, the methodological approach is after metaphysics. (Or within postmodern narrativity, nature becomes our projection of it; and we are either the dislocated originary subject, or our location is forever being displaced.)
Two major schemes have derived from this thinking: one historical and the other primarily technical. Both suggest that the human has moved away from nature, or is removed from nature. Thus both approaches to nature derive from an accounting of this movement away from whatever is considered to be nature (a concept in rapid flux at this historical moment).
The first removal is the historical notion that by various means we became removed/removed ourselves from nature historically: the origin of language, meaning, and consciousness (etc.), culture, art (and let’s not forget that the notion of ratio-nal derives from Plato/Pythagoras in which geometry and musical ratio of the whole notes of the musical scale define what is logical thinking). In this portrayal we are moved to invent theories of how we got to think through language (restricted usually to humans… origin of language), the search for the originary language (Adamic – because the Adam of Genesis named the animals their true names), and if/when we rediscover the originary language we will re-discover nature, truly (and human nature and the deity’s nature and…)
In this mode of thinking presumptively, the attempt is to locate nature via unpeeling history to find how we were originally or originarily, when we were at one with nature, or more simply aspects of nature. Within this theory that we became removed historically from nature, the general approach is via speculative history: the search for the archeus, Jung/Buddhism, etc., and treats nature as if it is/were timeless and unchanging. Mixed up in here are battles between the Biblical Genesis accounts of our being and the evolutionary Biological ideas which also tend to focus in this opposition on the nature of originary causality: particularly of what being human means: why modern Biology tends to focus on ultimate rather than proximate causes in interpreting evolution; some search for a purer human not corrupted by nature, etc. (Hobbes’ natural law, Rousseau).
The primarily technical approach to nature has to do with some notion that we are (now) removed from nature, but less seeking some historical return. This has mostly to do with machines, these days particularly of robotic computers which will have artificial intelligence – the term is very revealing of the orientation to being human and to our nature.
The methodological mode is deeply comparative in which we attempt to understand our understanding as being roughly (or even actually) like a smart machine (i.e, it thinks like we think we think). Indeed, the operations of the machine which we know because we have designed it, give us insight into how we (must?) think, revealing our nature.
Since Descartes, the same mode of thinking is used in comparing other species to humans – there has been a conflation of machines and non-humans. We use apes (or other smart animals – morphology used to reign but presently we are more open to any large-brained or long-lived species) to tell how how we are. In both cases of animals and machines, we find that they and their study are more revealing of how we are, than the study of humans in any sense per se.
Where do these approaches leave nature? In the historical mode, the presumption is that we exist somehow outside of nature; in the comparative, that we are much like nature, if not as studiable as other creatures of nature or of our imaginations. Nature itself isn’t much probed as a concept in either approach, being bootlegged in our back pockets in the comparative notion, and only residual in the historical. In both cases, nature remains as some sort of unexamined bedrock, to be used – one supposes – when it seems conceptually useful. (Useful: capable of convincing us to act socio-politically in particular ways that we might not otherwise –> Aristotle’s Politics.)
Nature’s God: In Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence (1776), the deistic notion of the God of nature is employed to keep the notion of the state independent from the concept of the nation as endowed by authority of a theistic God. This was done in contrast with the earlier use of the deity to justify and authorize a monarch to rule over the people. In Jefferson’s notion (derived principally from Locke) nature is a concept which is to be probed by the thinking man(!) – this includes all of us (all white men, at least). In this context, nature is a concept which is (has been) useful as a humanistic strengthening over and against external authority: monarch or church. The idea of the strengthening is to create the possibility that we are each of us capable of entering into a social contract and thereby to rule ourselves. The method – at least as it comes to us in the present age – is that of Science.
The human is an aspect of nature, and requires probing within the context of how to see our seeing as natural creatures. We are not removed by dint of language or of the deity granting us the ability to know to know God, truly. But we are natural, living like the abundance of live animals whose otherness is not incomparable with our own. Nature’s God is not the transcendent notion like a Gaia who has determining power; not even the winder of the clock which gave start to the mechanical clock-workings of the 17th and 18th century and began the process which has led to the present age. How to find out who and what we are and how is the world became the major tasks if we would approach the truth and truths of all of time. And the human is no larger, but certainly no smaller than the life which we experience.
The game of time and of history lies critically within this formulation of the world and our being within it. If nature – then the temptation is to take us out of any present determined and overly set by our adherence to some past which told us how we were to be even before we gave birth to ourselves. Experience is all! – though we fight still over whether it is even possible to remain intact even while we engage the world, mostly watching ourselves watching rather than doing. Experience, then, becomes the central metaphor for figuring how we are; know; think,…
The Invention Of Evil: Aspects of the complexities of a world in which we each wake up one day to the realization that we exist, and realize that we have little idea of how we got here. This clashes, as it were, with the experiencing of the present moment as it appears that the story we tell ourselves about what is, is joined by another story having to do with getting here. We live either dually or paradoxically or (ironically) both.
What to do with the fact of the realization? Nothing does not handle it, nor does its banishment. We are not only here and now, but then and there, and now and here, and it is puzzling only if things go well. If they do not go so well, there is a trouble. But there is more…
Not only here and now, but was and will be. How we got here transduces into when we will no longer be, further complicating the present experiencing. Present and past, life and death. The duality and paradoxicality multiply in complexity. And that is not so bad when things go well. We are tempted either to heighten the present experiencing or to bury and background it beneath the complexity of its ongoing realization.
When things do not go so well, when the present experiencing buzzes more than hushes, the paradox calls attention to itself, creating a valuation of good and not-so-good, of worry, of bad and wonder of judgment.
The present always asking to be judged contrastively even while it judges its own judging often finds an upside and its opposition. The temptation to give names to the aspects of the paradox turning into poles grants them even more memory, more reality, more censorship and critique of present experiencing. Good and not-so-good transform into the desired and the feared, or the sublime and the superficial. And the notion of evil is granted agency in our lives. We yield increasingly the present to the external and judge being-not more than being-yes. We give name to ourselves as enemy, calling ourselves the evil which attacks us even as we attack ourselves in the name of…
Conceptual Change: One can come to see the world in radically different ways from how she/he did previously. In some instances of conceptual change the prior view is still partially available and visible; in some others it seems virtually impossible to know the world other than how it now appears. As teacher, I try to take/force my students into conceptual change in as many arenas as possible – with the lesson of how to do this as auto-didacts when they no longer study with me. As auto-didact my studies are often directed toward quite new understandings and modes of seeing. Which is/are the real? – and how do changes in knowing and understanding reflect this. When is there progress toward the real?
As violinist I frequently attempt to play pieces which are beyond my (present) abilities. And it is often not simply a case of having insufficient technique. Sometimes I cannot see nor hear nor imagine how to play a piece or section; how to get my fingers to do something new or different from what they already know.
I am (always) playing at a particular level of competence, at the edges of my technique; but now I wish to go beyond, to be able to do something I cannot yet do. But in many cases, I now know that I am closer than I was. I have improved and become more capable – and believe that if I proceed in the right ways I can eventually come to play a passage well. The problem is…the problem is how to break-through, to ascend beyond the present plateau and to be able to…
The moment of break-through is never obvious: one day I couldn’t; the next I could – with some practice, and (usually) increased strength, and some better sense of what the nature of the next doing is. And if things are going well, the next day and the next after that, I retain the ability to play at the higher level. Now I reincorporate the remainder of my technique and knowing, knowing now that I know better…and can do more.
Logic: Thinking that thinking is to think logically, to solve problems, to do as Plato’s slave in the Meno a geometric proof; axiomatic as defining of the term itself. An historical resolution to the very idea of paradox being the path of incorrectness. Indeed, framing the very idea of what is correct and truth and knowing, logic has been characterized not only as the architectonic but as the definition of what it means particularly to be fully human. Equivalence, negation, the notion that one idea follows from others, that causality directs itself to direct ourselves, the very idea of beginning and middle,…and the concept of towardness: if’s, but’s, and/or’s, thuses, thences, and therefores; the notion of proof which is so capable of being generalized that such proof is the same as the truth of all the ages.
There is a great deal of power here, and some large amount of truth which can be transferred to our knowing the world. But much is also left out in our hurry to know the world without attending to the fact that it is we humans who are doing the knowing (and the reporting). And there is more story to tell, more to the caveat of Protagoras that (hu)man is the measure…of all things.
Ask of those aspects of Heraclitus which remain alive in our being about the quest for questions of change and permanence over which he puzzled so long ago. All is change; all is permanence – our minds so small that we cannot have it both ways at once, as if knowing’s boundaries were also and always limits and limitations.
Puzzles and paradoxes; paradoxes and puzzles. So in love have we been with the possibility of knowing at all that we cannot see ourselves viewing ourselves to know when measuring is measured, and when it is not. So afraid of the fear of paradox that we had to settle upon life as an aspect of the forever, a form of life as death. So resolved (to) the paradox of change and permanence that just a bit too much change augurs chaos. If not logic,…!?
Consider, instead, that Heraclitus is/was correct: that all is change!
The intrigue is that the world seems, then, like Plato’s cave turned inside-out. We live on the edges of our senses; just on the verge of being out of control, or, as Heraclitus put it, he loved the senses best? What sense here? Too much light, we try to look past the most of it to see what lies in shadows. Here I am. Take me. All of me!
If we follow Heraclitus, the more actual puzzle is not the human, nor time, nor what precisely is knowing, but that the world ever holds still – as it surely seems to. The I, I call myself, endures even as I change from moment to moment. The objects which tell me that even I can be objective do not evanesce like the ghosts of Geists or of Zeit. As Korzybski told us some time ago, we humans have figured out how to bind time. Is the I, I call myself, some process by which we find the I; or merely what it…is? Part of the human is the ongoing ability and propensity to actively hold things and oneself still, when(ever) we…
What is logic resides at some conceptual places within the fixities of the time structures which we have cast upon ourselves framing the world. It derives from the knowing how our mothers/others know; not merely or particularly from some inbuilt propensities.
This Heraclitean move leaves the world as it (always) was, still moot, still requiring us to know ourselves and our knowing how the I of who I am endures even while I am in change…always. Paradox? Yes. Grab it!
The response is in the neglected aspects of language wherein grammar and rhetoric battle each other for ever deeper obscurity. It sits also in the within which we have neglected various aspects of languaging while concocting a story of what is particularly human. This has, in its turn been a circularity which has told us how we are that we are-not – humans are not-animals, not-machines, not-deities, not… – while we have neglected how we are and come to be. Indeed, we concoct stories endlessly…endlessly, while we do not watch ourselves watching ourselves be and become. It is as if we do not want to know knowing but are in love with narratives and poetry which have cast all of being within ancient quests and questions.
The response is located in part within the coming to name objects: we do not come to know the world in any early sense, directly. We come to name names, to name the world in the Adamic sense of being disciple to our parents who gave names to the world to give us in their turn. We know knowing, that is, as our parents frame the world; not as it is in any individuated sense of our being.
Knowing, that is, is primarily rhetorical – we know our parents’ knowing. Then it is rhetorical: we are presented the world as a set of questions and learn the proper (rhetorical) responses. We learn that the world of being is paradoxical: it is one and many, many and one – our parents tell us so, and authorize our believing it to be, and to be as they live it…and tell us it. We emerge as individual propositional logical beings within the notions of logic which have worked and are at work in getting us here.
The grammar of our being is no mere arrangement of categorical forms of nouns and verbs and the spelling out of their particularities. It is at once rhetorical and individuating: a system whereby the statements of our being (logical) are situated rhetorically as responses to questions put to us by those who authorize our continuing being: being like them by becoming like ourselves. And we come to be…logical. A smaller aspect of our being has been taken to its greatest heights in our attempts to account for our being humanly uniques, as if we fear rather than love knowing knowing.
The relation between the circularity and the triangularity does not describe reality or our partaking within it, but is derived from the more central aspects of our continuing being. To raise logic to its current hegemony over knowledge is to neglect asking questions such as how we come to have a consistent identity, and to wring our hands rather than dealing with Heraclitus as she/he intended…
Authority: In actuality we who survive beyond the birth of our birth are continually authorized creatures. The Western myth of the individual who exists as a primary ensconced in a material body is the result of the historical inability to account for human knowledge and imagination: the love of the infinite and the unchanging over the finite-in-process, and the false certitude that paradox must be resolved else the universe fail and fall.
As physical individuals we are lethal; we fail and fall unless there is sufficient love and food and talk and a breathing-of-life into us. Those who feed us and give us our being also empower us to empower ourselves – actuality, skill in self-creating, and the wish to go on…indefinitely. Our parents authorize us, then teach us how to authorize ourselves, and others in our turn. We learn to name the objects and movements and relations of the world as our parents live that world. We grant authority to that viewing of the world, having at all times in our thinking the necessity to think as our authorities do, as well. We – historically – then learnt how to make authors of our own concepts.
Authority is the source and foundation of our being and derives initially – and frequently through life – from other persons. It is, as Heraclitus, the common-sense in which we live the reality of wakefulness, which guarantees our continuance. In sleep, we are alone, and many theories of being (e.g., Amerindian) value this aspect of our being more highly than when we are awake. If we value Heraclitus’ thinking, we can note contrastively that being in common-sense means truly that we think as others think, and think as they would think, thus authorizing the world.
The authority is also the author, the source of the thinking and writing which entices, instructs, or delights us. The author is the ultimate rhetor, certifying the sense of who we would be…like, or as ourselves.
There is a tendency at various points in life and in history to deauthorize ourselves, then others – or others, thence ourselves. At these recurring moments of weakness and/or fear (which can be understood as the weakening of authority within or without), we may seek authority in other loci: beyond being – in the past (e.g., Plato, Confucius, the Koran or Bible) – in some temporal locus as a president or monarch or priest – or in some place within our own being which we (now) define as mystical or beyond being-as-our-body. Or as in Western thought we relegate bodily being to an inferior status, also deauthorizing being, and seek authority in transcendent theories and agency.
The present age is one in which we now observe the rise of nihilism – rising as Nietzsche prophesied – from the Western obsession to be truth-seeking, thence to discover that Western thought has too often been untruthful in casting our senses away from being. As well, we experience the replacement of authority with celebrity – historically, a form of corruption where every external notion of author and authority – thence ourselves – is de-authorized, also exposing us to nihilism.
My wonder and hope is whether a tradition of Teachers and teaching is sufficient to overcome the fall of authority, and how to be/become that Teacher being neither self- nor other-destructive…!? (See: Teaching as Dialogue)
Agency: Lying within, about, and around the notion of authority is our wishful tendency to grant agency to the variety of objects and concepts which grant meaning to meaning.
The preliminary problematic is in granting agency to ourselves and sustaining both the agency and its continuing possibility. Within this problematic we seem to be able to grant agency to all sorts of concepts which have little to do with life or living: deities, natural occurrences, mythical and mystical concepts, texts, and structural abstractions such as language, society, and community.
The inability to see how we do as we do resides, I think, in the Western (particularly) tendency to assume that each individual is the primary object in its own world (a mind within a given body). Thus the notion of having to gain or grant itself its agency seems somewhat absurd. But in the relational semiotic of the infant having to survive only in terms of the parents who feed and love it and read into it, its futurity, the question of individuality is at once problematic in existence and emergent from interaction. Whether self-agency is totally derived, some mix of intrinsic beingness, and/or in continuing interactive tension with others’ viewing of oneself, agency is never continuous and guaranteed within individual being.
In developing the skills and architectonic for telling oneself that one is and who one is to be, and to continue to generate and grant this notion of agency to oneself, one simultaneously learns how to grant active being to (potentially) any concept which is like one’s being: other persons (actually agency begins here as we yield definitional being to mothers and others), thence to any thing which has attributes of personage. These include continuity of noted being, then of imagined being, the ability to isolate and to name any being or concept, the sense that others can make sense of the same concept – that one can grant it meaning. Early ones in life include the notion of today and tomorrow and yesterday, numerators, colors – most adjectives, which then take on a life of their own having noted the generality of their occurrences. (Actually this is built-into the naming of objects both in their singularity and in their universality: a skill well practiced by two-year olds.)
The second point is located within the learning of the language which one’s parents use to describe the world, and the laying-on of that language upon our being. Here we learn – in the first instance – that names are the names of objects because…because our parents tell us that they are. Causality is itself self-directed and circular in the first instance. A book is a book – a name is the name for something – because it is – i.e., because we have bought into a notion of authority in already granting agency to the parent, thence to ourselves, thence to anyone/anything which makes or can make sense in that cultural setting.
At this point we are off and running. I can do, God can do, Society and Language. The problem, existentially, is that all concepts can disappear or no longer appear, including myself…deriving, as they do, from authority and agency.
Absolute: The concept of any absolute is so bound up with humanly generated concepts of authority and agency that it is difficult to state precisely what it might mean. On the one hand there is the sense that temporality is resolved on the side of non-change and the eternal or continuing, and that space is precisely either infinite or inconsequential to existence. On the other, there is the paradox of our knowing as humans from the position of being involved in or as aspects of change, and finitely bounded. In this sense, the notion of the absolute depends on the resolution of the time and space paradoxes toward the infinite and eternal.
In quite another sense, we find little difficulty in understanding and utilizing concepts which are beyond the antinomious being of our finiteness and changingness. This can be taken to mean that we (and/or the universe) are either truly paradoxical or that within the human condition we have discovered (or are – this depends in turn on our concept of nature) ourselves and our externality.
Thus it is difficult to discern precisely whether we are talking about being human, about being human to have survived socially, about the materiality of our being which is equatable with nature and our derived knowing about ourselves, about some external agency which exists truly, or…
With respect to questions of change, the very concept of reality has been captured (and apparently remains capturable) by asserting that our senses obscure knowing and being, by claiming that the ideas of the ideal forms of ratio-nality are the real and we are somehow subservient to them. Plato simply denies materiality, virtually banishing the body in the Phaedo, proclaims that death reigns over life, that we should keep our inner eye upon our concept of the absolute, and live humbly with respect to his depiction of the absolute. Life reality is thus chimerical. The great irony and paradox here, of course, is how we could know all of this…never quite existing; always (sic!) having to grapple with our being finite and having to deny actual being in order truly to exist. (It’s really a continuous problematic within this construction of being and reality to grant agency to ourselves!)
Much of the history of Western (and much other) thought is then the attempt to justify some concept of the absolute as each depiction of it is variously punctured, or made to seem to skeptically doubtful that both absolute and our (now derived) being seem dubious in their turn. Since Parmenides, for example, the concept of the imagination – some extension of our being beyond our (obvious) mechanical-material boundedness – has caught our…imagination. We play at infinite length with the unpacking of the imagination without wondering too much how it could be that we might possess that conceptual extension: analytically examining aspects of logic and other structural aspects of language without asking too deeply why these seem primary, and other aspects of our being (dualistically written out of our existence) often remain unnoted thence unexamined.
This is what is particularly worrying about questions of any absolute. We have jumped from fairly narrow concepts of our being – presumably derived from some particularities of our observed and experienced existence – to some notion of the absolute. Then we grant agency and authority to these concepts and claim that they have some causal and/or determining function in our being.
While this does not seem clearly or distinctly incorrect in any overarching sense, it has certainly neglected many aspects of our being: being social and in mutual understanding, being terrestrial and in some relationships to other species, being bodily-facial, being in complicated developmental processings, being in belief systems which may determine how we see and care-for and cure ourselves, and so on. And we have used our concepts of the absolute – and our worries about how realizable and believable they are – to justify much of what we seem to want, much as we report on what there is. Desires/fears and the absolute seem too much in cahoots to assure us that we know knowing.
Indeed we go to amazing lengths to assure ourselves that the absolute (reality) is where we have said it is, because not being assured we often get quite discouraged and positively destructive to self and to others.
Similarly we have derived our notions of causality from (what seem like) reductions from language – logic/mathematics – somewhat less as tools to explore the universe, than as ways to justify our concepts of what truth consists in. Again, there is a battle over the very concept of truth (the absolute) in eras when our skepticism over the possibility of truth in this unchanging and non-finite sense, becomes irresolvable and paradoxical. Why not reexamine our being in these eras prior to reexamining our concepts of truth and engaging in the severe skepticisms which lead us to doubt knowing, thence our existence?
Especially this seems silly and useless when it is our existence which leads us to question our existence, rather than puzzling and celebrating it; tending to operate upon the axis of fear and wonder, tilting one way or the other. (Kierkegaard)
Nature And Human Nature: another concept caught within prior depictions of our being. There are variety of possible ideas of nature, depending primarily on whether we (see ourselves) as looking out, or as looking back at ourselves after we have gone out and now return to look at ourselves (looking out) with some newly refreshed observational and conceptual lenses; issues derived from already having grown up without specifically noting our earlier developmental being, and calling (by now) most of our being ordinary. Issues background themselves, our adjustments to present being captured within whatever we call comfortable, we cannot see most of our being or beingness.
We are also caught within the conceptualization of nature as somehow different and in opposition with whatever is the human: e.g., nature is mechanical and its opposition is mind or culture or artificial and related to humans being somehow beyond nature. Nature is taken to be finite in this oppositional thinking while being outside of nature is the human condition. In this sense, nature is primary conceptually, being before whatever is human, but actually and conceptually residual in being seen as whatever is not the human; we become defined or definers less of what is, than of what is-not – in particular.
Thus we search for intelligent life on other planets or in the universe, rejecting the concept that other terrestrial species might be intelligent, and taking the anti-natural aspects of our being (by whatever definition) and extend it to the limits…of our imaginations (Sagan). If, more reasonably, we see humans within nature, the likelihood and temptation is that we collapse metaphysics and politics, thus reduce the human within some prior (reductive) definition of whatever is considered to be nature. (Lorenz, E.O.Wilson)
Or we may consider the natural world primarily in speculative-historical terms – i.e., before humans technologized and colonized nature; our current living conditions being far (removed) from nature.
Similarly, the notion of evolutionary development is usually historical in the sense that the great intellectual surprise is that we ever got here. So-called ultimate biology (i.e., most evolutionary biologists) studies the present in terms of how the various species on earth could have (amazingly) survived, paying much less attention to the present or proximate biology; how various species actually maintain and sustain their existence beyond the very few moments of mating and extending history.
This includes the habit of taking survival to be a primary and granting it agency as the purpose for our being. As we have (since Pythagoras/Plato) raised the human over nature, the history is speculatively being rewritten to figure how we humans form some end in this notion of natural history. (How easily agency gets abducted from the human to transcendent ideas is exemplified by R. Dawkins who posits that the genes have the purpose of reproducing themselves, using our apparent existence as their purpose dictates.)
Within such theories of nature the difficulty of keeping cleanly separate the various thematics of nature and the depictions of theology and politics (and…) is high. Whether we want to move closer to nature (e.g., Rousseau, anti-chemicals), whether we see nature as red in tooth and claw (Tennyson and the 19th century following Darwin), whether we bow to our nature (usually a pessimism), or celebrate some particular line of genetic development (e.g., eugenics, manifest destiny, Apartheit) – overlays and interpenetrates any understandings we may have of nature.
Since our views of the human condition are stated often in terms of our possessing human nature, nature (itself!?) is constructed in terms which seem to predetermine how we are (to be, become). The definition of human and of nature is thus involved in a quite complicated circle of presumptions concerning how we are and how we are in relation to whatever is being called nature.
Nature: The question of where to begin: with the entire earth. The fact of the earth’s gravity literally shapes all terrestrial being. We would not be the shape we are living in other gravities: we are walking, upright, two-legged creatures who are rarely in any specific locational balance, who have/use a particular velocity. (The recent discovery of gravity in determining our human form, some three centuries after Newton’s apple!)
Seeing ourselves seeing ourselves is thus doubly deceptive but equally real. We are what we are and live in the terms of that being and being seen. We see out of a shaped being toward a world which is equally what it is but could be other. Physis and morphology are neither direct nor simple. But what we see and/or attribute to the world overwhelms what there is and we have first to deal with that fact, story, history, politics of ideas. To know nature we need (as well) to know ourselves and our knowing.
Tempting as it may be to state that the I who I am right now who poses these questions who would question the very concept of nature, is not the I who I am at all moments, is at the heart of our knowing. Getting here, the effects of future knowing pressing on my present identity, the desire to be truly objective without paying all the prices this continues to demand, all contribute to the concept of nature. Can I subtract my being; how can I reduce and deduce the talk about my being, the facts of my seeing what I am wont to see, to see-through my own seeing? These are not simple puzzles, compounded further by the wondering if knowing itself is not the ultimate deception and if existence is not really what it seems (e.g., the current return to Cosmology – Toulmin et al).
The reduction of mathematics and logical languages to describe, hypothesize, and elucidate excites and offers the guarantee of a nature which is neutral to my observing my being within my objectification of the world. But…but the idea that some externality exists independent of my seeing its being is no less a story than my determining solipsisticisms and other -isticisms.
Much is left out here. Truth is particular and circumscribed, lacking the various contexts in which meaning gains meaning. And there is the old skepticism about the truth of truth which turns upon itself when we lose faith in our own existence, and questions the very possibility of knowledge. No solid foundation for knowing nature here which is not sustainable when faith in our own being falters, convincing me that the very concept of nature derives dependently upon uncovering our own place within…it. (The sobering realization in the age of revisionism and the market economy is that destiny lies in the hands of she/he whose definition of human nature reigns over any enduring truth about being; why I think it crucial to study how we actually are…)
Some notions destructive of the possibility of nature: the idea that language is arbitrary (Saussure), driving the issue of our knowledge of it back upon itself – especially within a metaphysics which assumes that the individual is the primary, the subject of the notion of nature which is fading, fading,…gone; any anti-absolutist relativism which already is cast within an opposition to that absolutism seems to devolve upon its own internal oppositional logic – not to be equated directly with cultural (or species) relativisms which states directly that experience is developed differently by different kinds and types. Knowing these differences does not deny the reality of nature, but is necessary to penetrate in order to know…it.
Similarly, the notion that nature already determines who and what we are and are to be/become tends to background the nature of our experience, and to falsify the very knowing which has led to our reflections upon nature. Nature is seen as magician and mystifier given agency to create the nature of our being in order to obscure that very nature: e.g., we are our genes, who use us to do what they want. Similarly any theology whose deity has laws which are raised above the human condition and then used to determine it.
Also undercutting the possibility of nature are the attempts since Pythagoras/Plato to halt time or the experience/concept of process and duration, and to call attention away from our experiencing of it. This includes the essentialisms of logic, mathematics, and geometry. Not trying to claim that they don’t tell us about various aspects of being, they seem to establish and defend a priori the fixity of nature which backgrounds the realities of the human’s gaze and development and leads us into the vagaries of removing ourselves from our own experience, thence from the possibilities of knowing. This is to say that all presumptions (e.g., of equality, of any basics of our knowing of number, relationship, etc., are within the processes of our becoming, not directly given to our experience.).
Nature: The filters of our knowing nature are focused upon the apparent transparency of world-fill. Since Kant it has been clear that nature is not precisely as it appears to the lenses of the knowing human suspending self-realization while examining the world of nature. This is not to say that there is no objective nature, but that we need first/also to examine our examining of it even while we observe, describe, hypothesize,…
If we are no more than the bundles of sensations coming at us, then nature loses any substantiation…Hume’s assertion prejudges the configuring of human existence. If there is no proof of causality…? Kant proffers that we have built-in to our knowing-self some sense of time and space and the intuitions which lead us to know nature at all. All a mistake, mis-taken in its still unexamined presumptions that the primariness of nature is its physis: a mind/reason placed within a body already given shape and being which we then discount even as we observe and erase and deny the nature which is outside while we deny the nature that is us.
Apparently – wanting to play in the fields of appearance – we are wont to overlook the gravity which Zarathustra figures only from afar and away and above. It is as if we each run a sale, discounting our changing physical being, even as we ponder our condition. Facts fade, the actual dematerializes, our being is totally/only a social construction, even and especially as we dress and groom and peer into the mirrors of our facial reflections: Narcissus rising in a cave-in. Erasing the self while constructing its appearance, we gather no sense of the history of the construction of its being physical. Physical we assume, and notice no longer that we become the stature and statue we see reflected. What is the ontology, the becoming of the physis? To know nature, we must know the physis of being human…first!
Two cells joined. A growth and dividing; growth and dividing enlarge and encircle; an inside, an outside now joining again. The body is surfaces; the locus of being? More growth ingesting the nutrients which it knows and uses and rejects, it intrudes, obtrudes, protrudes; formulates places and more surfaces: muscles, guts, bony prestructurings, color them red and blue and yellow in the embryonic books of life. It becomes self-pumping, feeding, filtering, moving with respect to…itself, its containments: a oneness, many manynesses. Which is the I which (I) will be?
The sex act acted out of theories of love, of necessity, of wanting, needing, a completion-driven sense of incompletion, a wink and stare; the true hardness of philosophize with a hammer, and in the twinkling of being, there is another creature. Small, helpless, it can exist, breathe for but a few hours duration. But it is imagined into being, conceived even as it is conceived; conceptualization much as conception. It is not fed, not heard, not given the breath of long life, merely as the tiny copy whose each next breath is at first so wondrous, so problematic. It is cooed to, not just the newly born, but imagined to be grown, adult, complete, a generation…complete, actual, capable, real, projected by its mothers/others in the fulness of its being…like them.
It is understood, treated, interpreted, not fed merely. We adults, big, treat this…thing, baby, not in any terms of what it is as much as we study it, conceive of it now being, growing into a real person; real no less derived than our views of what is nature and natural.
Otherwise it dies, is lethal. The babe to whom we grant agency, personage is always in some very complicated interaction between its being physical-lethal, and our theories of its being which are precisely the theories of being which allow it, determine its survival. Face it! We humans are creatures who face it, who grant being and selfhood to the partial view of the mechanical infant which is its face. Look at me!
We see it, see nature, through our self-conceptions as having faced out, seeing nature not merely through our visual nerves simply bombarded in a Humean bundled sensation, but in a humanly wrapped set of interlaced surfaces which concentrate being as seeing-out, seeing others’ faces, emoting emotions as expression all interpreted…just as our parents interpret us. We do not see the world cleanly as the physis which is our center-of-gravity of the mere surfaces which would not know face from fact. Fact is, we do know face, we face facts and nature…but all interpreted, all socialized, all semiotically configured into the social being which is the who I am who survived and learned what I was…told, enticed, loved. But this does not mean there is no real.
The physis of the physical human is not self-generated, calculated as the arche and architecture and architectonic of skeletal prefiguring except as some possibility. The excitement should be that we stray sufficiently far from being other’s imagination of our selves, that we can portray nature…and now can see it….now see-through our portrayals to self-discover.
The error, I suppose, has been the excitement since Parmenides that we can go beyond the physis finite, and imagine a world we do not experience even while we experience the now and here and locate ourselves. We made up other creatures, our terrestrial relatives, to be what we say they are – purely physis – and granted with the hubris we often warn ourselves about, so little to them, that we made up what is the human without much consultation with those who truly create us: our parents, mostly mothers.
The excitement about being, about nature, is that we are granted agency, that we can come even problematically to grant agency to ourselves…at least for a while. Instead, we have taken that for granted while wishfully granting the exclusivities of knowing only to our human knowing. Better we should contemplate the Narcissus within than look for intelligent life in the realms of inner and outer space. It has seemed easier and more compelling to repeat Aristotle on reasoning reason, than to query how we came to be, and are; thinking upon destiny while we cannot see the present age (Dretsky Explaining Behavior).
World-As-Text: The ostensible argument between the purveyors of nature and of being – the two cultures – is not so clear as thinking that the naturists are totally mechanical-material, and the others are totally invested in the notion of the human as a reasoning creature. No! The argument is more subtle, its blatencies more about the politics of nature than about reality or actuality or objectivity or knowledge.
To defuse (some of) the politics, it has been my experience that they must be dealt with early in any conversation, and continually in order to begin to to pry apart what is presumption, what is known and knowing, what is wishful, and what is winning. Fact is, nature is approached by all of us as if it were a text. We do not know exactly how to read this text, but approach it out of a variety of experiences and history and wishes and hope. And once we know one or two chapters, we often reread and interpret the text differently than we had in getting to the moment in which we recast what we know, as well as what is knowing, itself.
The principal difference in the claims to reality between the two cultures has to do with the notion of textuality of reality: the hard scientific rational-logical mathematical approach presumes that the mechanical-material is reality in a sui generis sense. The observer is written out as if our being human is totally independent from the nature which we observe. Any objective (human) creature, the thinking goes, would note the same reality. A potent example: we go further into space searching for the same sort of intelligence we attribute to ourselves (but actively deny to other terrestrial creatures).
The others, the softies, approach not reality, but texts which are or are-not about anything specifically, as if the texts portray or represent reality, again sui generis. The (external) object disappears or is back-grounded to the reality which is now cast as what and how we know, and this is told to us through the systematicity of a Kant or a Hegel or the doubtings of a Nietzsche or the double-doubtings of Derrida who praises writing over being and grants the history of knowing some priority over knowing…itself. Derrida reacts violently to the failure of Husserl to prove external reality. Here the text effectively has become the world, and the task of knowing has become the task of being and of any reality. Again, the human effectively and essentially(!) dis-appears, does not appear…no longer appears, hidden from the view in s/his/our viewing while we read about…being? Interpretation (or exegesis) becomes all, and the issue of reality comes down to the narrative text which appeals most to us, or relieves us, or…
The two culture existential problem is that the text-as-world has so preoccupied our viewing that we suspect that either there is no world, or that there is no being; or both. Instead, we might grant that we humans have a particularly human form of knowledge which is less built-in to our being than it is that our knowledge is already attached to the knowing of our predecessors. We have to probe how we come to know what they know, and how we need to know the world as they have already portrayed it; as they treat the world as obvious in their terms – which we are essentially forced to accede to as part of our socialization. Then, perhaps, we can come to know the text which is the world, and the readers of it which is who we are.
The world is not not as they portray it and treat it; i.e., the world may be fairly like we say it is, or at least close enough that we can (and have) survive today, and all of the today’s in whose being we/I got here. We are not so stupid as to believe our fictional texts about the world, at least much/most of the time; not so misled that we treat our myths as truth, the truth mythically. We know food and feeding, and much about nurturance and sustaining, and how not to praise suicide, and what is up and where we are. (Regal: The Anatomy of Judgment)
We know actually how to learn, to be skeptical and critical, and to suspend judgment much as we tend to worship our own beliefs. We are often virtuous and brave, but often we cannot see the path from the pathetic. All of this is somehow about the world, about truth and reality. The world-as-text is not pure fiction, consistent and survivable as we are. The text-as-world (e.g., television), on the other hand, can lead us to believe our own beliefs just as we suspend the skepticism which got us to wonder if more than what and why.
(Admittedly, much of the criticism of religion and the postmodern to scientism, is that the implicit politics of correctness about nature easily turn toward hubris concerning who knows and can know, as well as toward the Faustian arrogance of claiming more knowledge than we actually have.)
Critical Naturalism: The important issues (thus far) in the quest for knowing the reality of reality concern the place of the human condition within/outside of nature, whether reality is the other side of the Heraclitean flux in some eternal and unchanging forms, whether physics precedes metaphysics, whether the concept of some absolute nature/reality is undermined by suggesting differences of perspective (e.g., of different cultures or species) making reality less hard, more spongy, and suggesting to the incautious and impatient that there is no reality in particular…anything goes.
The dilemma arises and persists within Western thought in the context of what has been meant by Plato’s worries about the antinomy between truth and persuasion, and in his insistence that this be a truth-telling and truth-seeking tradition. In order to accomplish the resolution of human experience into truth vs. sophistry, he literally removed us from our sensory experience, and proclaimed life to be mere copy of the permanent forms of concepts of geometry et al.
This was, of course, made complicated last century by the realization that geometry is, itself, dependent for definition by particular presumptions of the notion of parallel lines, etc., leaving us presently without the certain Platonic foundation of geometric figures, but only with geometry as models for… Geometry has, so far, then turned out to be a useful guide and metaphor for truth-telling, no bed-rock of truth.
Because Plato took us outside our existence (particularly by reducing or diminishing the human as participating in some external formal reality, but not of being/creating reality in our own being) we find ourselves in some opposition to nature. Oddly we remain somewhat caught in considering our own being as different from/outside of nature even while we judge it within our own experiencing of it – or of it as we experience ourselves as knowing,…several concentric/contextual circles in which now the human, now reality, is at question without considering why and how we remain caught.
The dilemma, succinctly, is that the human is generally defined residually: after physics, as the individual within the physical body, masking or hiding our sociality and usually our physical development occurring along with mental development; after death, looking back at life; different from nature, removed from nature, even while we are juxtaposed with other species considered to be natural or within nature.
So we are duple (at the least) creatures always in some vain disputes with ourselves (leading to our overtaking of ourselves in terms of good or evil or whatever is selling in any era). We are animals-not- animals at war with experience, seeking to transcend the worry over nature’s encroaching.
The most recent dilemma stems from Descartes equating nature with machines: where earlier we had to worry only that nature (our bodies) were a threat to our real being, now we can wonder if our particularly human intelligence (and associated ideas deriving from geometry and music –> rationality) is to be overtaken by machines. Or that we are merely and really our brains. Experientially, Platonic essentialism comprises a variety of ways of removing ourselves from our experience(s) and judging ourselves well or badly with respect to what is nature or anti-nature.
The dilemma of reality is complicated by the necessity of our having to be removed from it, experientially at least. The concept of reality is thus often overstated or presumptively defined as being anti-experiential thus unchanging. And if it is not like this (geometry and formal), then it/reality has no meaning; doesn’t exist. Nature and reality are thus defined as being whatever is not particularly human…which is not-nature…which is not-human…and on…and on.
A more critical naturalism examines the varieties of skepticism at large in the world, wondering that the idea of human knowing has principally captivated the imagination of the concept of reality. From Parmenides to the present, we have (for example) been in love with the concept of how a finite (physical) creature can indeed imagine the not here and not just now. We transform that love of extension into our definitions of the being of reality, thence of ourselves. Yet we retain a skepticism about our ability to know, to be the infinite and at once finite. Here it is necessary to see that the skepticism is bound with our definitions, while primacy is granted to physics and to the wonder of the human imagination presumptively.
A critical naturalism would note that we are children of mothers/others, learning their knowing of the world as our own; talking first to them and through our trying to get them to understand us thence the world (not the reverse). Then we would observe human development as occurring particularly in the face-to-face (literally we are face-loving). Then we would begin to study other traditions, and begin to see our own as a tradition which has taken certain life-paradoxes and attempted to resolve them, rather than to deal with life as truly paradoxical (which would no doubt undermine our particular Western concept of reality as existing outside of…). We would see that children can/do learn at a quite young age, the changing and the unchanging, the one and the many, death and life, all and at once. And we would begin to relax/alter our demands upon the definition of reality without thinking that we have to either have it one way, or not at all. Life is not-not real but thinking makes it that way…
Finiteness: If we take as a given, a primary, a presumption held at the level of the totally and unquestionable obviousness, that the being of being begins with the physical body, then we take as fact that to be human is to be finite. But (we observe) we are not finite in the terms which have come to represent what is uniquely and truly human: issues which have come to define the domain of the mind – of whatever it might take to take us beyond the finiteness of bodily obviousness. While this has led us to ask about those aspects of the nature of our being which have to do with however we carve out and carve up the mental, it leads us away from much knowledge about our being, away from knowledge about how we know and what we know, about, that is, the actual or real or nature.
The concept of number, of one and two and three…and infinity, of the physical carried beyond itself mimicking our story about the humanly indefinite and extended beyond…itself, confuses and excites us to see how this could be and to wonder especially about the general within the specific; the universal set within the presumed experience of what is specific.
A better story, a truer and more accurate depiction of how we can come to represent the infinite within the finite, is born of watching the development of the infant turned scientist and intellectual, wondering precisely(!?) the same: how to see the infinite within the finite; to understand oneself as having extension into the distance of space and time: to know tomorrow and one’s future being, and relationship of mommy and daddy of oneself.
The grounds of being: one is always(!) seen and interpreted as having extension in the world, from birth on and on and on, and in relationship; one is never merely finite. One can never interpret oneself as merely finite, either.
Sense to oneself can only make sense if one comes to believe in one’s extension. To do this, one has to abandon one’s sense of finite being, to enter (literally?) into the faces of others’, to recognize the constant features of facial surfaces within the changing expressions of talking heads: to see mommy, to see oneself reflected within her irises, and to derive one’s sense of self, now having yielded it to others’ definitions of one’s being. Here lies individuality and personage as we have attempted to define and understand it – but always heretofore begun in/from the wrong place.
In language, the route is not from experience of the body looking outward at the world, but within the definition and interpretation of oneself as extended by one’s parents. One does not proceed analytically from bundles of sense experience to compose the world.
One is presented the world already composed (having effectively yielded the definition of one’s being to others): one learns objects – not colors or number or other adjectives; one learns time (responses to the question ‘when?’) and space (responses to the question ‘where?’). One learns the individuality of objects simultaneously with the universal: dog and this dog; not one then the other – seeming paradox is easy in the human condition – by about age one+. Gradually one derives the sense that objects are colored, have colors – the world of experience is not built up, not constructed according to some scheme within the brain, but out of the dynamic of coming to be like others, and like others state that one is.
The infinite of knowing is then built-in to the dynamic of learning language as the parental generation regards language: the world is not the world as the child constructs it, but in her/his coming to know her/his parents’ knowing. What we then call the individual or the person is later, and emergent, and solidifies the extended and non-finite self which the parents demand of and necessitate from the infant.
The finite body is yielded early (if it can be called a yielding – perhaps a joining in imitative and face-expressive while the infant examines, strengthens, exercises, smiles, both within and in-relation to its mother and others, all simultaneously. The person, the infinite/finite individual which has been the puzzling aspect of our being which argues against the physical finiteness as dualism, is not oppositional; not necessarily unique in the range of life forms, but the semiotic and socialized self which is (now) transformed, transduced into the sense of being which we are calling the human. It is not the finite physical with the infinite mental overlain!
The physical which is now socialized, that one which develops the persona which is who I am, is who I am with respect to who I am interpreted to be: at once finite and infinite, extended in time and space – but very little from within. Rather I am who I am in terms of a world knowledge which is that world which others say is the world.
How this world of knowing and language might have had its origins now is also problematically transformed, and will ak us to ask questions of other species to wonder if they, also, are not any mere physis; as they are (all) also social, just as we: interpreted and intrepreting the world as they are told it is and told who and what they are…to be.
The Intuitive: The question (Leibnitz and others) of how we come to know – from some sense of earlier, built-in knowing which is already an aspect of being human (brain, gut, heart…) as opposed to some Lockean sense of sense experience built-up to relate to objects, words, concepts: a construction of the world (by each individual). The skeptical problematic of Hume, worrying that we have no real-actual sense of the principle of causation, if we are experiential in our coming to know knowing. If not sense experience, then we are (led to believe) the answer is to be found in our intuitions, our feelings, our built-in’s.
Whether these approaches to knowledge should be considered in clear opposition seems to me doubtful. The infant – born – already seems to have much of what I consider knowing: of its own body, externally and internally; a visual orientation to be interested in high dark and light contrast, etc. As the dualism of mind and body has not led us much to consider the sense of knowing which relates to one’s physical body – as if the central nervous system is set already in some ways autonymous or automatic to the organism which is somehow different from what we think of as meaning and knowing – the way we have thought about knowing has to do with how we (the individual) begin the processes of knowing the external world…with the end/purpose of becoming rational/human.
I don’t think this way of proceeding is useful: it is circular in many ways, and does not lead us to understanding as much as it seems to direct us to one path of solution to a problem which itself seems to close-off quite early in the game. Whether one is skeptical about the possibility of knowledge of the external world, or of the possibility of mutual understanding, this skepticism is quite formal and structural, not out of our experience: why we have set up this problem in the first place; the finite body versus the infinite of knowledge.
We grab experience to justify one sense of understanding the problematic and then become skeptical of how we can know…and then seem to forget or overlook how well we actually do in (to me) a world in which knowledge of almost anything seems quite marvelous – but actual. It often seems to me that we do not actually want a solution to the problem of knowing, perhaps because it would trivialize being beyond what the philosophers could tolerate (Heidegger). Perhaps it is a question of whether (as Kierkegaard said) we approach the world bouncing on the axis of wonder or fear!
If we need to probe knowing, it should be set in the context of the developing human – not, for example, within the metaphor of the already grown (male?) individual, akin to Condillac’s speechless statue. It should not be set within the fantasy of the wild boy, but within the actuality of how a human infant (you, me) could have become/did become the knowledgeable who I am today.
Rather than worry about experience vs. intuitions, we should note that the infant has particular interests: in others’ faces, in sucking (= exploring and knowing its’ own mouth and internal facies); in seeing great contrasts and contrastive changes which it then internalizes in its own facial movements, muscles, smiles, and so on.
I theorize that the mouth and face are where the world is modeled and molded. The infant gives away much of her/his face. No doubt there is some sensory-muscular orientation (= intuition) to the faces she/he sees, reacting to them. Whatever the actual mechanisms, it is primarily in adapting for its reality the facial outlook of the mother(!), that its own experience and becoming is oriented: not from within, not from inbuilt intuitions by which it approaches directly the world…of knowing.
The experience of the developing infant is moderated or directed by its involvement with the face of its mother (and others) with whom it identifies itself. Within this process of identifying effectively begins the process of becoming a self – the person, the being who I am and have become. The individual of birth is perhaps residual and very small. Effectively the who I am is overwhelmingly the who I am said and told and interpreted to be; the social, semiotic me, the one whom I project forward into the indefinite future, becoming.
The universality of language which has been rated very important in attempting to understand the process of becoming a knowing being, is located not in the intuitions or built-in’s but in the (humanly universal) processes by which one is attached/attaches oneself to one’s parents: some extended vision of the question-response system by which we are direct to know the world by responding to questions in terms of which the world as the parents understand it is presented to each infant.
Truth: The problem with truth is that by the time it occurs to us to ask specifically about truth, it has already become quite complicated. If…we survive to ask about the truth, then we have already accepted and developed a number of notions, theories even, about the nature of truth. In order to penetrate the problem with truth, we have to unpack what we already believe is truth; in order to see what is problematic and what is interesting or revealing.
The essentialist/foundationalist complication is that truth has become associated with permanence and formal, logical notions abstracted from much of the way in which living proceeds, consistently and, well…truthfully.
The truth of living has to do with ingesting food and air into the mouth (which is itself a large, if ordinary-appearing aspect of being), of muscular movements (including especially heart and lungs, but also balancing and the muscularity of stillness).
The truth of living has to do with constancy but also with and within change, and developing even to oneself a sense of persona obtained and emergent from interaction with others. It is about (facial) expression and sound, seeing and feeling of and with others, in order to; in order to relate to them in ways which become ways in which one is constant to oneself. Constancy seems to have little to do with that which is…internal to the organism. The individual, that is, is derived, constructed, and develops from the constancy of how one is conceived and treated by others, and interpreted to be and to continue being. Truth is finding a persona which is the ground of one’s being; a sense of self-reference in which the self is (always?) engaged in circumscribing itself. The truth of being, that is, is that being is in-relation with others, while the facts of being are growing and changing.
The truth of being is about conscience which is play about the emergence of one’s being a self; true to oneself in constancy, while reflecting to and from others’ depictions and interpretation of being. A self is a findable persona: the one which wills and talks to itself, and gathers itself into a homunculus which it says it is, and I am. The ways in which we find constancy and continuity, in which for example I see myself into my childhood photos, these ways are at the heart of being.
All of these truths precede the quest for a truth which hovers over being. Being does not merely wear the lenses of seeing and hearing any object which exists clearly outside of the self. The being which is, is emergent and constructed and necessitates active work in process to reconstruct it in order merely to have it appear to remain steady and findable. The difficulty in locating any difficulty with one’s central being is an indication that the processes are working well and effectively. This is a powerful form of the truth of being.
It may be likened to the lack of active awareness of the inside of our mouths even while we articulate speech, eat, and swallow, and salivate, and press our tongues even while we read and think – in known places with precise pressures. Any awareness of this process is like a broken chip of a tooth, gigantic and focusing beyond the apparent dimension of our total being – showing how gigantic (in actuality) are the truths of being which we have backgrounded within the quest for truth even while we say we are constant and object-ive.
We know time and space and because and how many of who and what and what happened to the coloration of the horse which is this horse or that horse and any or all of the above, in response to the way we watch and hear the world being posed as questions our parents pose to us. When we respond contextually-correctly as they define whatever correctly means – to them – then this is, these are truths of our being. All of this is, by the time it occurs to us to ask about the nature of the truth, solidly part of the truth of our being, only to occur to us when problematic that it is aspectual to being. It is, perhaps, like violin technique, only necessary to examine when it does not work well…enough in any present moment.
And the question of how good is well enough is also a matter of the nature of truth which we already know: well enough to sustain us…which is no small matter even though it may not usually arise when we ask about the truth.
In a peculiarity of Western thinking, much of the truth of this telling has been erased from thought about thinking as it has been placed or relegated to the material-mechanical with rules and truths which have seemed opposite to the truths of truth, or totally defining of them. But the truth of the matter is that there is no clear opposition in being body-or, body-and. We are what and who and how and because, and in-relation, and all of this is true. The dilemma is how to locate the persona which is the effective self, the who I am who I tell myself I am…as if some notion of a mechanism of character will do to tell us about the nature of truth.
Much of truth is located in deciphering the nature of being which is posing the quest and question, as if unsure or unsatisfied with the truth(s) already possessed in the nature of being; as if they are now or suddenly problematic; as if one has discovered something new or general or wrong with what was known to be true. Or it may be that one’s persona, the grounding and central aspect of one’s being is now seen by others with significance of definition of one’s being, to cast earlier truth into present problematic. That self of self who willed the truth, who was the who I call myself, no longer serves, no longer works, no longer content but now wondering and wandering asks what is the truth!? Toward an anthropology of the ordinary…
The mechanisms for judgment have been present in one’s being since one first learned how others judged and categorized the world of objects and movement and how many of what size and how they work, and what causes what to happen; or it no longer does cause what to happen; or there arises a new issue which may have no story of cause or explanation; or the old story no longer serves as it did formerly…but they usually do when the remainder of one’s world seems stable. The quest for truth arises when stability is itself suspicious.
And we must probe why the question arises, under what conditions, and for whom, and what would satisfy the quest. For the notion that the truth will set us free is at war with the tale that we should not know more than we should know which is what is already known – a sense of hubris which is a little Faust agitating a few of us to be all-knowing, mixed with power in decline, or power in…
The truth is not in nature in any simple or reduced or purely analytic process which is not so difficult to derive from the truths of being which we already possess in becoming who we are to ask the question about truth. We are not merely in-nature or outside of nature, or trying to control nature or ourselves. We are largely reflective – less in reflecting upon what we know – more in reflecting how we think others want us to be in some circularity of who and how they think we are and ought…to be; less in any certitude which calms.
Eschatology And Nihilism: Of course the entire phrasing of this form of argumentation, of reportage on the problematics of truth and being and reality, is that we live within a heritage whose ideas mix most readily with the experience of what is. We openly invoke old men (mostly) in the guise of philosophy and religion as we make most general most everything and cannot easily decipher what is mine and what is yours and its and theirs.
We are often unclear concerning who we are and who we are told to be and urged not to be. In this tradition, particularly, we become aware of our experience to some large extent through the imposition of an awareness of our impending death(s): do this…or else…no heaven…God will not like. (In some others we are blurrily reincarnated or actually the rebirth of someone wo is already well-known and present in the thinking of one’s community.)
Authority and conscience and pleasing our parents and the why’s of because are all imposed upon the being-in-the-defining which is our early childhood. Love and goodness conflate with do and be it…or else…Why? Because I say so…to the three-year old.
Authority within oneself and the self-certification of one’s own experience remain backgrounded as we are urged to yield. We gather a sense of self as much in the thinking as in the doing, and the sense of who I am, and am to be is gathered in the large from externalities, both derived and tied to others who own reason for being seems increasingly obscure as we age.
As Nietzsche tells us over and over again, the battle of being authorized to be oneself with the limits of one’s being are at odds in realms roughly called moral, which have overwhelmed those which are more self-centered, more virtuous. We praise others in their weakness, and grant ourselves power in lording it over them in our pity for them. We live in a tradition which says it praises the truth and its telling, while not creating within the would-have-been truth tellers the possibility of discernment and the staying power of overcoming one’s bringing up or earlier versions of who one thinks she/he is.
In the end, we are told to say to ourselves, in the end we seek our being. Do this because; do that…for the same reason. Because I want to be virtuous in order to get to heaven; am, for heaven’s sake.
It is so difficult to review critically, to unpin the effects on the seeking of salvation on the telling of any truth. This is precisely what this truth-telling tradition has got us to, to this moment when it has become obvious and clear that the tradition which praises itself has not told us the true truth. And now it fears that there is not truth because the possibility of truth has shown its own temptations to lie, to weaken any resolve to see ourselves seeing, and to lead us toward nihilism just as we are led to see the end more than the ongoing present. Woe is us!
Architectonic: There has been much praise, a raising to genius those to whom we look for instruction; the teachers to all of us who have caused us more to reread them than to read ourselves in our being and doing. If we know what there is, but more how it is put together in its relationships and reactions, then we (would!) really know knowing. Here is often located the rock of the bedrock. Here is the locus of the placement of the concept, the notion behind the idea; the virtual Zen of the universe. Here is the plan, and here is the architect, and here is authority and agency…And where am I?
Here, again, I suspect we have victimized ourselves and our (self) understanding by granting being to aspects of our existence which we have taken to the level below and out-of-awareness, and called it obvious and especially ordinary. The architectonic and the resultant architecture of the human body, a prime example in our case of being, has been raised to a plan of what is – then extended to what must be and should be.
The critique is that the plan does not often include the flesh and blood and guts of our being, but primarily the paleontologically obvious: the skeleton. It is as if we are reverent not toward our parents and the wisdom of the aged, but more in love with the fixities of the idea of wisdom…of the ages, of what has endured, as if having endurance certifies our being. (Is anyone today smart/wise enough to be an…Aristotle?)
We derive metaphorical being from the inmost, the parts which survive the vicissitudes the longest, as if they provide the map of our being. We classify the human much in relation to the bones of other species, less in terms of how they act, are, live. We call this morphology and render the processes of being lesser: we consider those processes as physiological if they maintain life, but have overlooked how it is to be…in gravity. Three plus centuries after Newton, we are only now beginning to discover the gravity of the human condition.
For it is by now clear – if not so well known – that the bones are not so clearly architechtonic and hard. But they are viscous and changeable, and take their shapes and maintain them only in the position of being upright, and moving in terrestrial gravity. Do not remain too long in bed, do not spend very much time in the depths of sea or the heights of space. If we are who we appear to be, then this is in great part due to what we do, and do often, and do not wear and tear down with being in gravity for more than 40 years or so. Even the concept of age and aging is heavily in relation to being in gravity, though we have related age less to ongoing being but more to the approach of death.
More and moreover, we have granted to this architectonic the primacy of our being, while we overlook the fact that we are engaged as fundamentally in seeing others seeing us seeing others…In accounting for how we look (and much of who we are), we impute some hereditary power to facial shapes. Yet it is now known (through orthodontia, going to the non-gravity of space and cutting muscles of young mammals, and plastic-reconstructive facio-cranial surgery), that the shape of a face is in relation to muscles which are actively held in various tensions and uses and dis-uses dependent greatly on who we are…with, and how they talk and look and hold their faces and respond to our active expressive muscular movements. (Enlow)
Where precisely is the architectonic in all this? How have we managed to not see the obviousness which is how we look at looking, and overstress the notion of the looking-out…as if the facial dynamics which largely determine and sustain the who we are of our being (and whether we are, for example, credible) are subordinate to the architecture of the edifice. It is as if being is in our bones; even while knowing that it is not there (Lorenz, Dretske).
Similarly we have been uncritical about how we gather information about our being, relying on the same authorities to authorize the notions of intellectuality and to repeat (e.g.) Aristotle ad infinitum as if he had and is the last word on the nature of human nature: e.g., the organic analogy has created more obfuscation in the framing of political organization than seems possible.
But this fact points to the implicit acceptance we have had of what is the human and what is nature, generalizing from how I am and we are, to the whole of existence…any metaphor in a storm(!). We seem to carry various speculative theories – rather, actual theories of speculative history of the human – with us and within us as if they are merely to be applied in the correct(ive) circumstances.
Peter Wilson attempts to turn speculative history on its head, ass…(but I suspect the body-part analogy to the notion of philosophic inversion is not unimportant). In his Domestication of the Human Species he lays claim to the idea that we began to geometrize being (not to think geometrically, as Plato suggests), when we began to live in fixed communities: with places, insides and outsides. Then social structure tended to harden much as the places which we told ourselves formed the archtectonic of our being. Then we began to think of gardens…of Eden, and of palaces, and of nations, of nature and culture, and of humanly formulated deities. And we raised the objects of the geometrizing of our being to transcendence and causality and began to derive ourselves diminished as they ascended to the agency and power of definition of the architectonic of being and truth and nature. (Now in this era of televison have we any longer any sense of place? – Meyerovitz)
What Is Vs. What Cannot Be: There is a recurring temptation to depict the real and nature less by what it is or does, or in the various processes of being and doing, but more in terms of what is aw(e)ful and destructive and impossible to conceive. We are driven often when we once-believed, to deny that belief in a loaded way: a positive/negative chaos-ism replaces a once-sufficient deity; the limits of being overtake the examination of life and the world. We seem to indulge our worst fears in calculating what is. The very idea of our existence overwhelms us in a cosmology of if and whether; meaning in the West, reality is at war with personal death.
Less do we concern ourselves with the Public Health aspects of maintaining and sustaining life, itself. More we are taken with the edges of being where the polluting poisons enter being corroding thought: a toxicological approach which focuses upon the not-to-be. When the tragic sense of life enters then pervades our sense of the real, then it is difficult to see and to remember seeing and doing and what might be the good. Rather being is overtaken with the chaosmic cosmic excitement of how nothing could possibly work, and finally come to question the fact of our very existence, without which the issues of the real diminish and disappear. Here we beg to be told that we are, and that the fears we experience are the experience common to every one.
Instead it is important frequently to ponder Kierkegaard’s observation that we approach the world either through fear or through wonder. It is important, in such moments, to recall the Heraclitean possibility that all is change…anyway. Our infatuation with the certitude of permanence cripples us in seeing what there is, led as we are to concentrate and to celebrate the boundedness of existence. The cannot-be, the don’t-be, the lack of any will to say Yes!, has already in its development negated any possibility…of…And there is nothing much to say except that death has its own domain; and that this is not it. (See: meditations on…Next Places)
Leviathan: A confusion and conflation, the application of ideas which we humans invent or derive are then imputed to the concept of nature; once granted to nature, then taken to apply somehow to the human condition. Since Aristotle at least, we have taken some ideas such as mind-body dualism, raised one over the other (e.g., Plato – Republic Book X) as if this is obvious in the natural scheme of things, and applied them to social theory (Aristotle: Politics). The problematic notions that there are a mind and body in each individual, that mind is placed in the body, that mind is the ruler or director of the body, is merely presumed then taken by Aristotle to apply equally well in social theory: monarch over polis as husband over wife, people over slaves.
Social theorists never get (realize?) to ask, apparently, what is the status of the original opposition, or if they do are shouted down by (belief in) the philosophers. Leviathan is Hobbes’ scheme for the same notion.
Such ideas presume the cannot-be of existence, a sense that chaos always looms just over every next horizon and must be stopped at the pass, else anarchy will rule; there will be no rules, no order. A natural law theory is concocted to account for why human (males!) are intrinsically competitive and destructive, rather than a theory which posits the social and mutually interactive obviousness clear in the relationship between parents and infant.
Here Leviathan is a justification argument, a way to claim that power invested in people cannot be sustained, cannot be trusted; that education and change are to be avoided in favor of hereditarian claims of non-change; and the worry that change goes awry and moves toward chaos. Here it is difficult to distinguish what is real and what is actual and how the world is, because we are already involved and invested in many circles of theory about being which are difficult to unpack or to deconstruct.
And the actuality of experience for those who are already disposed to see the worst (Kierkegaard’s fear) is that they approach teaching with distrust and a sense of the destructive potential of any change. Rules become laws which become nature and the real, and we emerge as persons only to find that we live duple lives: one of experience and the other of theory about being and reality.
It is difficult to see the real or the actual. This takes much rethinking and study; but it is tempting to submerge them to theories of our being.
Pathology: There was I, one day seemingly whole, the next not so well, telling myself that all is not so good and that tomorrow all will be better. Pains, hurts, innards popping off and oozing out; the former surfaces once smooth, now growing glowing grotesqueries.
Theories of the world, of the real, bah! I want relief…turns day-by-day into fears for my own being. Sickness alters being slashing and burning at its roots and brings the presence of death into life crying for a return to normality; to what was. The future fades as I seek ways to account for this sickness, ways to blame or to forgive and to calm the self which was just a few days earlier at some peace with its own internal dialogues. The wow! of pain creates an immediacy to experience which cannot get beyond itself. How can pathology be used toward understanding and standing outside of the pain whose vast size so compresses being that all else disappears…
Additions: Upon trying to fill-in the thinking of the romantics of the 19th century (including my own). My puzzles remain, I think, mostly intact. We are bodies, living in the world with/of other(s’) bodies. We are what we are, and can also think, think in remove and in present here and now.
Coming upon thinkers after the skepticism of Hume (See: my essay on Cultural Relativism and Critical Naturalism ), I sense that the deeper problem is not with being human, but with the development of our theories about our (human) being.
Much is left out of our theories, constructed as they have been upon – as it were – certain surprises emanating primarily, it seems to me, by a surreptitious certitude about the primacy of the physical world, and the inferences and entailments which follow from that thinking.
The romantics (I’ll choose Schelling for his clarity: in
System of Transcendental Idealism. I:Idea of Transcendental Philosophy) got to worry about the precise nature of truth, particularly in our relation to knowing that truth. Although this is an old story about human nature, Adamic language (Adam called the animals by their true names in Genesis – a method for getting truly back to the deity) and all that, it boils down for Schelling to the nature of our representations of reality, of nature: words, ideas, grammar, etc.
As this has been constructed within the context of meta-physics consisting of that which is left-over after physics, (see my: After Metaphysics), Schelling, bless him, raises the issue both ways: from nature to subjective, and the reverse. So the problem is stated and lives within two domains: the problem of philosophy is now to connect them – truth (nature) to knowing, or knowing (subjective) to truth of nature.
Instead, I think much is ignored in this formulation of the problematics of nature, truth, subjectivity, and so on. It relies on some (necessary, presumptive) opposition between nature and knowing, as if the human condition resides in some loci or contexts independent (virtually) of nature. And, perhaps more important, it neglects much of the human condition, especially (but not only) the fact that we develop and change as bodies, that we live within and are virtually interpreted into being…by mothers/others.
Certainty and Certitude
Words and Nouns and Naming Abstract Notions:
Things in and of themselves: phenomenology et al (Lorenz included)
Presuppositionless Knowledge and Husserl
Narrative vs. Living
where is Talking
On Making our Ideas Explicit
An Unscripted Time