You want synchronicity? Here's a synchronicity: I began writing this post -- including the title -- yesterday, but didn't finish. The title struck me as a bit weird, but as usual, I wondered whether it was weird enough.
Later in the day the mailman arrived with a book called The Great Dialogue of Nature and Space, by the Catholic philosopher Yves Simon. I didn't know anything about the book, except the title struck me as sufficiently weird to give it a shot and enter this Great Dialogue.
I'm only up to p. 50, but so far it's all about the differences between an Aristotelian and Cartesian vision of the cosmos, which represent the "nature" and "space," respectively, in the title.
The book is also about the mystery of change, which isn't only one of those primordial categories for which any decent philosophy must account, but in many ways the very source and occasion of philosophizing itself. If nothing changed, we wouldn't have to wonder why.
Obviously, animals don't worry or wonder about change. But it's pretty much all we humans do in one way or another. It is the source of anxiety (if things change for the worse), hope (that they change for the better), trust (that they will stay the same), etc.
But in reality, things are always getting better, getting worse, and staying the same. It brings to mind Hello There Universe, by One Cosmos poet deploreate Mose Allison: even though / The good gets better and the bad gets worse / Hello there universe:
You let me sample your treasure chest
Showed me how to choose the best
Then you gave me lessons in humility
Do you know what you do to me?
You let me feel your mystic light
Showed me splendors of the night
Now you got me wondering if I missed my cue
Am I doin' what you meant me to?
So, ups and downs, strikes and gutters. Change, dammit!
The very first philosophers pondered this mystery and came up with two alternatives: either All is Change (Heraclitus), or Change is But an Illusion (Parmenides). For the P-man,
all reality is one, change is impossible, and existence is timeless, uniform, and necessary.... Parmenides explains the world of appearances, in which one's sensory faculties lead to conceptions which are false and deceitful...
Parmenides' philosophy has been explained with the slogan "whatever is is, and what is not cannot be." He is also credited with the phrase out of nothing nothing comes. He argues that, despite appearances, everything exists as one, giant, unchanging thing (Prof. Wiki).
In contrast, the H-man insisted that no man can step into the same cosmos twice:
He was most famous for his insistence on ever-present change -- known in philosophy as "flux" or "becoming"-- as the characteristic feature of the world.... This changing aspect of his philosophy is contrasted with that of the ancient philosopher Parmenides, who believed in "being" and in the static nature of the universe.
In the end, neither perspective was remotely weird enough to account for change or changelessness.
This all goes to the cryptic title of yesterday's (and today's) post, and Simon explains why on p. 29. For if Parmenides is correct, then reality "is one and motionless," which ultimately means "not that all things are one, but that they are nothing" (¡emphasis mine!).
In other words, 1 = 0, and now we know why: "The world has disappeared" into a "homogeneous unit. "Are you baffled by novelty?" No worries! In reality, it's all "one and the same." Everything is "a big unchanging ball." With this magic ball of Parmenides, strikes are gutters and gutters are strikes, so fuck it, let's go bowling.
The other extreme -- pure change -- is no better. Among other inconveniences, if it were true we could never know it, because no changeless knowledge would be possible. (This is the trouble with a Darwinian metaphysic.)
Now let's skip back to yesterday's post, and find out how we got here:
I've been reading a couple of books by a Catholic priest (Richard De Smet) who lived in India and wrote extensively about Vedanta. His thinking evolved over the decades (from the '50s to the '90s), but he eventually came around to the view that neither the Upanishads nor Shankara teach a doctrine of strict nondualism or acosmism.
(Acosmism, "denies the reality of the universe, seeing it as ultimately illusory, and only the infinite unmanifest Absolute as real." It "has been seen in the work of a number of Western philosophers, including ¡Parmenides!, Plato, Spinoza, Kant, and Hegel" [Prof. Wiki].)
This nondual approach is really no fun at all, for it is very much as if God exists and we can know Him with certitude, the only catch being that we can't be there to enjoy the experience. Rather, between you and God is a jive little man called the jivatman, AKA your illusory sense of identity:
Understood through the paradigm of relative reality, jivas are cloaked by maya-avidya, or ignorance -- a state in which they are not able to realize their oneness with Brahman.
Metaphysically speaking, the whole thing reduces to acosmism, so instead of One Cosmos, it's No Cosmos for You!
But De Smet suggests that we have Shankara all wrong, and that he actually believed that ultimate reality is personal, or has a Person-to-person structure. Does this imply a static dualism? Or does 2=3? Stay tuned to find out!