Thursday, September 13, 2018

Get Your Own Cosmos!

The problem is, philosophy begins waaay before we think it does.

For example, a philosopher may wonder to himself, "just what is reality?" I suppose that's more or less how it happened with me. So you then go about trying to figure it all out, tacitly ignoring all the things that are given to us well before we begin to consciously -- or explicitly -- think about them.

It's a cliché, but truly, every newborn baby is a philosopher. I think we need to take that literally, and examine just what babies do as they encounter the world, because that's real philosophy.

You can't pretend to begin philosophizing from scratch at age 20 or 30. Rather, it starts at age zero, or minus zero, really. Indeed, perhaps the most important philosophizing is complete before we even begin to consciously think about it. Maybe a philosopher is a baby that never grows up. This implies that a bad philosopher is a grown-up who forgets that he was once a baby.

It reminds me of the old joke about the argument between the scientist and God about creation. The scientist says something to the effect of, “Listen God, we’ve decided we don’t need you anymore. These days we can clone people, transplant organs, and do all sorts of things that used to be considered miraculous.”

God replies, “Oh? Care to make it interesting? I'll bet you can't make a human being."

"No problem!" The scientist gathers a handful of dirt, and just as he's about to begin working with it, God says "Whoa! Not so fast. Get your own dirt.”

Jaki makes a similar point, that "the radical primacy of registering objects" allows us to inquire into what they are. In other words, not only is thatness prior to whatness, but the latter cannot be brought in retroactively to explain the former.

If that's not clear, just say that being is prior to knowing. And if we presume to undertake the task of knowing about being... well, that's a big presumption. Who said that's possible? I say it's possible because I believe in the doctrine of creation, whereby intelligibility and intelligence are mirrors of one another, built into the nature of things.

But how is philosophy possible for someone who doesn't believe in the doctrine of creation? The moment the secular philosopher says anything he claims to be true of reality, you need to say, "Whoa! Get your own dirt."

Or, to be precise, "get your own intelligible objects." In short, how and why are you assuming the universe is intelligible -- that it is not only speaking to you, but speaking truth?

As we all know, Descartes thought long and hard about this problem, and felt he'd cracked it. I'm not sure how the obvious eluded him, but he ended up turning the question -- and the cosmos with it -- upside down, with I think, therefore I am. Based only upon what we've discussed thus far in this post, I'm sure you can see how problematic this little formula is. For starters, get your own I!

If I'm Descartes back in November 1619... no, if I'm Descartes at any time or any place, and I'm trying to think myself down to the rock bottom foundation of things, I say to myself.... objects are. I only think about them, but the objects are quite obviously prior to my thinking about them.

René, you had one job! Again, he reverses the whole ontology (and with it, epistemology) by putting René first!

Initially, Descartes arrives at only a single first principle: I think. Thought cannot be separated from me, therefore, I exist.... Descartes determines that the only indubitable knowledge is that he is a thinking thing.

Note the next howler, because it goes to the whole subject of this post, if we ever get around to it:

Descartes defines "thought" as "what happens in me such that I am immediately conscious of it, insofar as I am conscious of it." Thinking is thus every activity of a person of which the person is immediately conscious (emphases mine).

Again, philosophy surely begins before we are conscious (i.e., explicitly self-conscious), insofar as we were ever babies. But Descartes ignores this truism, and "proceeds to construct a system of knowledge, discarding perception as unreliable, and instead, admitting only deduction as a method."

As if babies "deduce" the reality with which they interact and through which their minds are built!

Common sense: "The registering of objects alone makes possible the improvement of one's knowledge." Only in this way "can the process of improvement start and be continued" (Jaki).

Speaking of which, if you really want to create hell on earth, it's not that difficult. Rather, just do precisely as Descartes advises: ignore everything but the reality of your own thoughts, and then construct a logico-deductive system to explain every object we encounter, AKA the real world.

And if you understand this, then you understand the left. No, literally. I've been reading about just this subject in Hayek's triptych on Law, Legislation and Liberty. It's so rich and dense -- not to mention, convoluted -- that I scarcely know where to begin.

Let's begin with Hayek's observations about Descartes: Descartes thinks, therefore Hayek smacks him down. And I'm sure Descartes was a nice guy and all, but he is in desperate need of a smackdown.

Actually, let's start with the here and now, and work backward to Descartes. For all practical purposes we have two competing philosophies, conservative classical liberalism, and leftism. Both are rational, but in entirely different ways; Hayek calls them evolutionary or critical rationalism, on the one hand; and naive or constructive rationalism, on the other. The latter may be traced to Descartes, at least as far as Hayek is concerned.

For me, that itself is a little naively constructivist -- as if our problems can be laid at the feet of an historically identifiable suspect.

Rather, I trace the whole catastrophe back to Genesis 3. You know who first said "You think, therefore you are?" The serpent, that's who. Indeed, that is the whole point of the story -- "you shall be as gods, knowing good and evil." It all starts with you, not with the world of creation, AKA objects that object to your dreams and schemes.

The devil comprehends everything, but is not able to create anything (Dávila). Likewise the constructive rationalism of the left.

But Hayek tells Descartes to get his own dirt:

The "radical doubt" which made him refuse to accept anything as true which could not be logically derived from explicit premises that were "clear and distinct," and therefore beyond possible doubt, deprived of validity all those rules of conduct which could not be justified in this manner (emphasis mine).

Again, if you superimpose an ideology -- a manmade system of thought -- over the world, and deduce reality from it, then you're going to have problems, whether you are a feminist, global warmest, critical race theorist, Russia conspiracist, Keynesian economist, whatever.

What we call "tradition," the ideologues of the left will dismiss as myth or superstition, since so much of it may not be susceptible to clear and distinct logical deductions. Yes, they're only time-tested forms and customs that exist because they are compatible with survival and/or thriving. Imagine taking the same approach to biology, dismissing any trait that cannot be logically deduced from first principles! (And this is indeed how premodern medicine functioned -- for example, deducing illness from humoral principles.)

But for Descartes -- and for your village atheist MENSA member -- "rational action" equates to "only such action as [is] determined entirely to be known and demonstrable truth." Which, it turns out, is mighty few things.

It immediately brings to mind an aphorism, and explains why the aphorism is true: None of the high eras of history have been planned (Dávila).

Or this one: The natural sciences, where the process of falsification prevails, take only errors out of circulation; the social sciences, where fashion prevails, also take their achievements out of circulation. And few fashions have negated more achievements than constructive rationalism.

Oh well. Modern man treats the universe like a lunatic treats an idiot (Dávila).


Anonymous said...

Great Post, straight up philosophy, a rare find these days.

Descartes did not have the benefit of the infusion of Eastern thought in his day, so he arrived at a conclusion putting primacy on the conscious mind. The conscious mind is the easiest part of the being to play with, so its possible to overlook the other elements. That was his primary error, and it leads to all others. Probably the Left makes the same mistake, as you suggest.

We have to turn to Yoga to get a more complete picture of a human being. The Rishis of yore put in a lot of work on this, so we don't have to repeat from scratch.

To whit, the human being consists of:

Atman (a soul which is not born, and remains in Heaven with Brachman as an overseer).

Purusha (individual soul which comes to Earth)

Psychic Being (element of the Purusha which is evolutionary and develops and grows on Earth) This is distinct to human beings. The Psychic Being carries the controlling agenda of the a particular individual, and goes from life to life developing). This is the real "you."

Mental Sheath: (Includes mind, conscious and unconscious).

Vital Sheath: (emotions, cravings, chi body energy)

Physical Sheath (tissues, organs, the physical organism).

Soooooo...the Rishis of yore concluded the best method for cutting to what was important in life was to focus on the Psychic Being. If you make contact with your Psychic Being with your thinking mind, you will understand reality in a very comprehensive way. Or so they say.

Now it is possible to test one thing, very easily. Ask yourself, am I eternal, or did I have a beginning and do I have an end? The answer hits in the gut, not in the head.

julie said...

Speaking of which, if you really want to create hell on earth, it's not that difficult. Rather, just do precisely as Descartes advises: ignore everything but the reality of your own thoughts, and then construct a logico-deductive system to explain every object we encounter, AKA the real world.

Along those lines, a young lost soul of my acquaintance, having exhausted (for now) the delights of volunteering in foreign places to do... something?... to help poor kids in Africa or wherever, is now planning first a month-long "monastic" retreat (Buddhist, of course), followed by a three month stint with some workshop put on by Harvard Divinity school. One can only presume that after all this "enrichment," she'll announce her intent to become an atheist lesbian rabbi, followed swiftly by the realization that having carefully skirted any actual contact with Truth, much less Meaning or Purpose, she still can't understand the essential emptiness of her life. Instead, she'll die a little inside whenever she's around friends and relatives who did the boring thing and got married and started families, raising adorable kids and having fun at family gatherings.

I wish I could say there's only one young person I know like this, frittering away the beautiful years of her youth dutifully trying to save the world, but it has become all too common, not only for girls but for boys as well. Having rejected the simple directive to be fruitful and multiply, they don't have the faintest idea what a human - much less a man or a woman - is for.

Gagdad Bob said...

Boredom has many faces!

This post by David Solway, called Silicon Valley's Futile Search for Utopia Via the 'Perfect Algorithm', is oddly connected to my post today:

"A programmer -- someone who creates algorithms and codes them up -- is a minor god, creating universes at will."


"we need to recognize that our beliefs and actions are increasingly predicated on falsehood. Islam is peaceful, the planet is growing warmer, the seas are rising and polar bears are on the verge of extinction. Ultimately, taking such calculations to their logical extreme, we can assert that gender is a social construction -- there are 32 or more sexual morphisms with which we can identify -- or that our universities are places of tolerance and free debate or that masculinity is toxic or that multicultural diversity makes us stronger or that socialism is the solution to all our political and economic problems. We create an alternate reality with no relation to actual social, political and physical reality...

"Rather, the algorithms... have us behaving in ways that must infallibly lead to our demise as rational beings as we become human bots seeking an ever more fraudulent epistemology."

Daniel said...

Ha! Ironically the dirt joke reminds me of that Carl Sagan quote, "If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe".

Van Harvey said...

"Speaking of which, if you really want to create hell on earth, it's not that difficult. Rather, just do precisely as Descartes advises: ignore everything but the reality of your own thoughts, and then construct a logico-deductive system to explain every object we encounter, AKA the real world."

Yup. Descartes's call to artificially doubt everything, with no cause or basis in reality, is the philosophical licensing of the arbitrary.

When Mark Cuban said "In the event Donald wins, I have no doubt in my mind that the market tanks", he was reveling in his ability to 'make his own dirt' by remaking reality in his own image, via Descartes' magical 'Method of Doubt' - it was and is the means of disconnecting us from reality, Truth and meaning.

What but Hell (and conspiracies, if I do say so myself) could follow from that?

Anonymous said...

Let's talk about opiates for a moment. It has been said "They cause feelings of pleasure."

The medical view is that they stimulate reward centers in the brain. In the scheme of mapping reality, where does brain's reward system stand? It would seem the brain has ways of manipulating its own perception of reality. Are emotions, sensations, impression, and hunches "real?"

When discussing reality, it is often assumed to mean inter-subjective items only, like "the cat is on the mat." Etc. However, how real are internally generated sensations? How should they be weighted in any discussion of reality?

Ponder. Reflect.

Anonymous said...

Re: Descartes. I heard a great line this morning on Catholic radio:

God loves, therefore I exist.

I.e., I am an object of God's love.


John Lien said...

Excellent post Bob.
(doing my monthly check in.)

doug saxum said...

Just ruminating this morning of the microcosmos that is my mind.

Frightening and calming at the same time.

PJB said...

"If that's not clear, just say that being is prior to knowing. And if we presume to undertake the task of knowing about being... well, that's a big presumption."
As we are the instrument of our intention, conscious awareness is simply the directional sensation of how to get from here (imperfect state) to there (perfected state). Everything else is details.