Notes on Intro and Ch. 1 of “Difference and Repetition” by Gilles Deleuze

As Adam/Knowledge Ecology has mentioned, a few of us are doing a reading group on Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition. Here are my notes for our first session.

Notes for Introduction and Chapter 1 of Difference and Repetition by Deleuze

By Matt Segall

Preface: Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition is an initiatory text that, rather than putting the Cogito on trial or trying to out judge the judging ego according to its own rules, instead goes to war with the Self as an outlaw, seeking to destroy and dismember it without concern for the Self’s laws or habits. D & R is a work of philosophical terrorism, a concept-machine that lobs semiotic grenades and launches metaphoric missiles that do more than explode in the sky like fireworks: Deleuze’s ideas are weapons of cruelty that erupt from the ground, not displays of celebration in the air. Deleuze seems to argue that the only way to unmask the ego, to reveal it for the mere ghost that it is, is to scare it to death, to force it over the edges of representation, whether organic or orgiastic. In showing the Self the empty form of time, Deleuze dissolves it. Unlike the beautiful soul, who understands all difference merely as misunderstanding, as though he were standing on a field of battle as a justice of peace (52), Deleuze rejects all notions of common sense, notions of what “everyone” supposedly knows, since this “everyone” is precisely no one in particular. On the other hand, Deleuze seeks to redeem difference from the sinful and accursed lot it has been given within the regime of representation. If his project to compose a philosophy of difference succeeds, it is because what “at the outset seemed monstrous, demanding expiation, and could be alleviated only by representative mediation,” in the end becomes “the most innocent difference, the state of innocence and its echo” (67).

1) Two Kinds of Difference: Kind and Degree (Bergson’s Revenge)

To understand Deleuze, we have to understand the difference between differences in kind and differences in degree, even if, all things being different in themselves, this difference turns out to be only one of (differential) degree.

Deleuze’s philosophical method repeats Bergson’s, who repeats Plato’s: it is the method of division, of the authentication of the singular by tracing its genetic roots, following its line of descent into the ground. This method is opposed to the (Aristotlean, Hegelian) method of identification of the special (by analogy, resemblance, or contradiction) with the general:

“Difference is not between species, between two determinations of a genus, but entirely on one side, within the chosen line of descent…It is a question of making the difference, thus of operating in the depths of the immediate, a dialectic of the immediate. It is a dangerous trial without thread and without net, for according to the ancient custom of myth and epic, false claimants must die” (60).

Deleuze’s philosophical method proceeds by generating differences in kind where before, there was only a confused coherence, an illusory identity, an impure mixture, or an errant resemblance, resulting from both the habitual (passive/unconscious) repression of the discontinuous multiplicity of the ground, (the ground is different in kind from all the differences in degree it produces on the surface), and from the projection of the clear and distinct ideas of the self-identical ego onto the representational screen. Deleuze slices a razor across the center of this screen, not just to cut it in half (the line of limitation), or even to fold it in two (the plane(s) of opposition), but to reveal the depth behind it (see pgs. 50-51).

Deleuze learns from Bergson that the root of all badly analyzed composites and confused differences generated by the representational image of thought is the conflation of differences in kind with differences in degree.

A difference in kind is a genetic difference, a difference that rises from the depths, as an affirmation of the depths, to “make itself” (28), a difference that distinguishes itself from a ground that does not distinguish it.

A difference in degree is a special difference, a difference that appears as already made or determined, a superficial difference that does not itself repeat or express the genetic activity of the ground and so can be understood only negatively.

Further, we learn from Bergson (and Whitehead, in his own way) that time is different in kind from space: space is extensive and time is intensive or genetic. The spatial difference between matter and perception, for example, is a matter of degree, of speed, while the temporality of the élan vital makes it different in kind from matter, perception, or any merely external movement measurable by rulers or clocks. The élan is the differenciator, the creative process or genetic activity that instigates all apparent movement without itself ever appearing in physical space (as a body) or psychic time (as an image). Deleuze’s is a philosophy of difference, which makes it also a vital philosophy, a philosophy of life.

2) Learning is not imitation (pgs. 22-23, 25), it is the successful synthesis of incarnating signs (the ocean’s waves) with spiritual signals (the pre-individual thoughts of the swimmer’s dissolved self): “Learning takes place not in the relation between a representation and an action (reproduction of the Same) but in the relation between a sign and a response (encounter with the Other)” (22).

Deleuze’s education in difference is a spiritual exercise that kills God, dissolves the cosmos, and fractures the Self. Or it multiplies gods, cosmoi, and selves, generating new habits, desiccating old ones. “There is something amorous–but also something fatal–about all education” (23).

Learning is always takes place at a level deeper, more singular, than any generalized method of teaching can hope to reach:

“…beneath the generalities of habit in moral life we rediscover singular processes of learning. The domain of laws must be understood, but always on the basis of a Nature and a Spirit superior to their own laws, which weave their repetitions in the depths of the earth and of the heart, where laws do not yet exist” (25).

3) Theater of Philosophy

Kierkegaard no longer simply reflects on theater (like Hegel and Aristotle, who “represent concepts instead of dramatizing ideas” [10]), he “lives the problem of masks, [he] experiences the inner emptiness of masks and seeks to fill it, complete it, albeit with the ‘absolutely different’–that is, by putting it into all the difference between the finite and the infinite, thereby creating the idea of a theater of humor and of faith” (8-9).

Theater of Repetition v. Theater of Representation =

“In the theater of repetition, we experience pure forces, dynamic lines in space which act without intermediary upon the spirit, and link it directly with nature and history, with a language which speaks before words, with gestures which develop before organized bodies, with masks before faces, with spectres and phantoms before characters–the whole apparatus of repetition as a ‘terrible power’” (10).

-Nietzsche’s Dionysian dance of life or Kierkegaard’s Christian leap of faith? (10-11)

  1. History of Philosophy (30-42) from Aristotle (being-genus-species), to Duns Scotus (neutral univocity of being), to Spinoza (affirmative univocity of being=pantheism), Nietzsche (eternal return of the different)…

“The history of philosophy has always been the agent of power in philosophy, and even in thought. It has played the repressors role: how can you think without having read Plato, Descartes, Kant and Heidegger, and so-and-so’s book about them? A formidable school of intimidation which manufactures specialists in thought – but which also makes those who stay outside conform all the more to this specialism which they despise. An image of thought called philosophy has been formed historically and it effectively stops people from thinking” (13).

5) Organic v. Orgiastic Representation:

“Orgiastic representation has the ground as its principle and the infinite as its element, by contrast with organic representation which retains form as its principle and the finite as its element” (42-43).

Organic representation (e.g., Aristotle, Spinoza) produces knowledge of finite things according to the requirements of the identity of the concept in general. It can produce no concept of difference in itself, since differences are always made extrinsic to the substantial identities of things, never internal to these things.

  • “Four shackles of mediation” (29, 34) in organic representation subject difference to
    • 1) identity of concept
    • 2) opposition of predicates
    • 3) analogy of judgement
    • 4) resemblance of perception
  • But is there not “an irreducible ground which continues to act under the apparent equilibrium of organic representation?” (35)…

Orgiastic representation (e.g., Hegel, Leibniz) discovers the infinite within itself and its objects and peers over the limits of the organized to reveal “the womb in which finite representation never ceases to be born and to disappear, to be enveloped and deployed within orgiastic representation” (43)

But, orgiastic representation, in that it remains foundational, still does not free itself from the principle of identity as a presupposition of representation: “it remains subject to the condition of the convergence of series in the case of Leibniz and to the condition of the monocentering of circles in the case of Hegel” (49). Identity remains the foundation, even while it is given infinite value and rendered coextensive with the whole, thereby reigning over existence itself.

The Large and the Small- Hegel and Leibniz overcome the false choice by making the large and the small coincide at infinity; however, Leibniz says the infinite of the finite through its infinite smallness (differential calculus), while Hegel says the infinite of the finite through its infinite largeness (the wholeness of the True Idea), such that difference is represented as contradiction and negation (44-45).

“If Hegel discovers in serene representation the intoxication and restlessness of the infinitely large, Leibniz discovers in the clear, finite idea the restlessness of the infinitely small, a restlessness also made up of intoxication, giddiness, evanescence and even death…the difference between Hegel and Leibniz is a matter of two ways of going beyond the organic” (45).

Contradiction v. Vice-diction- Hegel begins with the essential=genus, while Leibniz begins with the inessential (46).

6) Task of Modern Philosophy: Overturn Plato? (59)

Deleuze argues that Plato’s philosophy, though showing an undeniable preference for the One, had not yet become representational by succumbing to the abstract movement of mediation, since it still unfolded in the presence of brute, immediate facts. Physis/natura naturans had not yet been lost to it: “The Heraclitan world still growls in Plato” (59).

Deleuze distinguishes himself from Plato’s method of division when Plato enters the “play of myth” in order to trace an Idea’s line of descent according to the logic of participation (61). According to Aristotle, Plato lacks mediating concepts and so must resort to myth to provide “the imaginary equivalent of conceptual mediation” (61). Plato’s myth of a eternal return of metampsychosis is a sort of “story-repetition,” a myth of the turning and returning of the souls which circulate above the celestial fault. Plato’s mythic grounding of philosophy “always involves a further task to be performed, an enigma to be resolved. The oracle is questioned, but the oracle’s response is itself a problem. The dialectic is ironic, but irony is the art of problems and questions” (63). The Platonic art of problems becomes, when non-identically repeated by Deleuze, the genetic method of his philosophy of difference (the method of creating one’s own problems by marking new differences in kind where before only differences in degree were perceived).

The Essence of Religion

Preface
It has been suggested that all modern philosophy begins with doubt (JC, p. 80). When one philosophizes, they agree to take nothing for granted, and even to question themselves backward into a corner if need be. Cornering oneself in such a way becomes the goal of philosophical inquiry, as once trapped by one’s own thoughts, the answer is deemed found, as the dialectic of doubt has seemingly lead one in reverse to the very base and background of all being (i.e., that which cannot be doubted). One merely needs to turn around and take note of the boundary, as here it must be that all being begins. But such a method-so perfectly calibrated to avoid all missteps and mistakes, so expertly designed to provide unquestionably objective knowledge of the world-can tell us nothing at all of the subtleties of life. Doubt leads us down a path that can end only with an indifferent truth: a truth of abstraction and rational argument divorced from the concrete and personal truth of bodily life. With doubt as our guide, the life of the body, the most tangible form of human existence, begins to resemble, in Hegel’s words, “a hole in being” (PP, p. 249). Explaining away the individual human life in such a way leaves one with a dead and dissected slab of meat, its life sucked out and absorbed by the universal truths discovered by way of methodical doubt. All its mystery has been swept up into the philosopher’s ink well and then neatly ordered and explained in writing upon the page for all to see and understand.
The method of this essay, in contrast, will not be philosophic; which is to say, it will not begin and end with doubt. Our topic is the essence of religion, that last remaining mode of expression where the simple mystery of individual existence finds its primordial importance even amidst the cluttered minds of modern men and women. We must ask the reader to suspend their doubting tendencies and to leave the religious question open so as not to approach it merely academically. Only then can it become a “genuine living option,” in James’ words (TET, p. 349).
This essay will be written in the manner of a gesture, rather than a discursive argument. Its meaning is intended to be taken “just so,” as though it were cueing something already obvious to the reader that has merely been forgotten. One can of course disagree with it, but know that in so doing one has turned down only an invitation, not a rational argument. The author is standing on the far edge of a precipice. The abyss between he and the reader is deep and darkness prevents them both from even guessing at the distance to the bottom. The author writes, not in an attempt to prove why leaping across makes sense, but to “flail his arms” so as to convince the reader to follow him across without knowing exactly why, as the reason only becomes clear after the invitation has been accepted and the leap has been taken.
Defining Religion
What is religion? As it is a question of essence, we can be sure it will not reveal itself easily. If we begin with etymology we discover that the word derives from the Latin, religare, “to bind.” This leads us only to a new question: What is it in religion that is bound together? After some thought, we may venture that religion binds what is human with what is divine. But by what method could such a connection be forged? It is the opinion of this humble author that such a connection becomes possible only as the result of an unmediated mystical experience. The essence of religion, then, may be described as “that” which is apprehended in a first-hand experience of the sacred.[1]
We may be tempted at this point to conclude that an unmediated mystical state of union with the divine provides an answer to the more functional question, Why do we need religion?, as though such an experience lead to an easier, more enjoyable and fulfilled life. However, posing such a question pulls the veil back over what we have just revealed to be essential to religion. As Keiji Nishitani has said, asking about the utility of religion “…obscures the way to its own answer from the very start. It blocks our becoming a question to ourselves” (E, p. 341). This becoming a question to ourselves is the crucial step toward experiencing the sacred. The person who first asks What for? does not realize that any answer already assumes the answer to For who? has been provided. The primary question for the religious person is always “Why do I exist?” The answer is never final or unambiguous because it is not the question itself that is of most import. Rather, it is the act of asking it-and asking it passionately-that brings us to the religious experience, to union with God, our truest identity.
Such a definition of religion strikes traditional theist as blasphemous because it does not respect the ultimate separation between creator and creation. For the atheist, it is merely more self-suggested nonsense created by the imagination to give meaning to a world that cares not the least about human beings. To the scientist, all such claims of unity with the sacred are first met with skepticism and finally dismissed when the burden of empirical proof appears lacking. The philosopher, the champion of logic and rationality, recoils at the assertions of mystics because they appear to him to be emotional pleas appealing only to the passions while often mocking the intellect. The politician sees in such mysticism a cowardly retreat from the reality of evil and an impractical distain for the day-to-day lives of average people. Lost in all this criticism of religious experience is the actual individual, the one who is born and who dies-the one who can never be quite sure of their own whence or whither. Our exposition will focus on this individual and on his/her solitary confrontation with and assimilation of the unknown and unconscious, with his/her experience of the sacred. We will, along the way, answer the critics (the theologian, the atheist, the scientist, the philosopher, the politician) using what might best be termed depth psychology. Our perspective will be one centered on the psyche, the whole human-body, mind and soul. We do so at the behest of Carl Jung, who reminds us that, “…all immediate experience, all that I experience, is psychic” (MMSS, p. 190-191). Our goal is to describe, as clearly as possible, what it means to be an individual asking the most central of religious questions: Who am I?
The Psyche
To begin, let us first clear up the ontology of experience as it relates to the term “psyche.” One may at first feel justified assuming that experience is what a psyche has, as though the psyche were the subjective self and experience were the objective world it encountered. This confusion is to be avoided. Such a dualism between mind and matter succeeds only in providing us with a conceptual distinction between appearance and reality. When it is of crucial importance that we understand the difference between what we think and what we know, as when we design and build skyscrapers or rocket ships, then distinguishing between my own mind and the matter at hand is quite an intelligent device. But when our task is to bring to light the nature of the psyche, we must remember that it “…does not trouble itself about our categories of reality, and it would therefore be the better part of wisdom for us to say: everything that acts is actual” (MMSS, p. 73). Viewing the human being as a psychic being amounts to no more than the admission that everything we experience, whether it arises out of mental or physical activity, is actual-it can and does matter for the individual. We could also put it as Kierkegaard has: “Immediate sensation and cognition cannot deceive” (PF, p. 82). To be clear, we must admit that many an illusion may appear to the psyche, but such illusions are “real” and cannot deceive because their immediate occurrence has a direct effect on the meaning of one’s personal life.
When seen as a psyche, the human being appears to suffer from an irreconcilably divided nature. On the one hand, we exist as finite beings born to a specific family in a specific place at a specific time. As a result we suffer all the characteristic flaws of carnal reality, ignorance and death chief among them. Most of us remain stuck in this kind of worldly existence and never take seriously intimations of anything more. On the other hand, those of us who don’t ignore such intimations and who are drawn toward a deeper understanding of our own identity may gain an inkling of the soul that remains unborn in eternity as an infinite being with direct access to a truth that transcends all finite categories. If we agree that nature can make no mistakes (if it did, who would be the judge?), how could we be anything but perfectly spontaneous and wonderful manifestations of the eternal becomingness of creation? How could a separation between creature and creation ever arise?
Wait a minute… one may say. I agree about my limits, but I have never been privy to eternity or transcendence, or to the becomingness of creation, and I’ve yet to see proof of any soul, what on earth are you talking about? Herein lays the essential difficulty of referring to any “mystical experience” to begin with. It seems to follow that there are some who have seen the light and some who have not. We might then assume that the experience must be wedged inside time between when one has not yet experienced it and when one has already experienced it. The apparent requirement that something eternal occur also within time gives rise to a paradox, and we draw our ego nearer to its own limit as we attempt to approach an understanding of it. “This,” Kierkegaard says, “is the ultimate paradox of thought: to want to discover something that thought itself cannot think” (PF, p. 37).
The Coincidence of Opposites
The one who claims never to have experienced eternity is caught in a profane world of passionless thoughts about thoughts, of self-reflection ad infinitum. The events of each passing moment become yet another chance to reinterpret some provisional understanding of what it means (or doesn’t mean) to be alive, though even calling it “meaning” seems to cheapen the word by leaving it always vulnerable to reinterpretation or negation. It is of no surprise then that this kind of person would report having had no knowledge of anything but his or her own every day life. But to concede that such a person’s entire being lacked some understanding of the mystical, of the presence of the infinite, would be to overvalue what the ego has reported and ignore what the unconscious has left unsaid. Because a human being is composed of both conscious and unconscious elements, we cannot always believe what consciousness appears to say, as it only represents the surface of the total substance of the psyche. Hegel, for instance, wants to see the individual as a “hole in being” because he acknowledges only the conscious half of the psyche, as any good philosopher is forced to do.[2] Only an individual with an empty hole for a mind could accurately gather up the objective truths of the universal without distorting them with his/her particularity. Our psychic perspective, however, sees the individual not as a hole, but “a hollow,[3] a fold, which has been made and which can be unmade” (PP, p. 250). Just as all light, to be noticed, must cast a shadow, all consciousness must exist in contradiction. The plain and ordinary life of the one who claims ignorance of the divine is no denial of the sacred at all, but a clear example of its necessity. A person may be conscious only of their finite ordinariness, but they understand themselves as such only in relation to the germ of heaven ruminating in them unconsciously (in the fold, so to speak).
This coincidentia oppositorum is a trick of the intellect, useful only “…if we are willing to contradict ourselves…” (MMSS, p.189). When we come upon something that eludes our conceptual grasp, we must resort to dividing it into its antithetical halves in order to make any sense of it at all. In the end, though, “the conflict of the material and the spiritual aspects of life only shows that the psyche is an incomprehensible something” (MMSS, p. 189). But rather then allow ourselves to merge with this unknown, this “incomprehensible something,” we cultivate the willingness to contradict ourselves, to be “a relation that [refuses to, or is unable to] relate itself to itself” (SUD, p. 13). We increase the crease of the fold in our being in an attempt to transcend ourselves objectively, from the outside in. This is the impetus that begins the process of becoming an individual. As human beings we are given the cultural task of self-definition, though we never succeed in achieving it once and for all. As Dante has said, “The desire for perfection [to be fully oneself] is that desire which always makes every pleasure appear incomplete, for there is no joy or pleasure so great in this life that it can quench the thirst in our soul” (GD, p. 45). We are told in the face of all life’s possibilities, not to mention the inevitability of our own death, that we must solve a problem that cannot be solved (this forces the experience of paradox upon us, whether we’re ready for it or not). We must become a free individual even while it is plainly obvious that our existence is wholly contingent on what is other than ourselves (our historical situation, future possibilities, etc.). “This style of man,” says Alan Watts, “must therefore see himself as the ghastly and tragic accident of sensitive and intelligent tissue caught up in the cosmic toils like a mouse in a cotton gin” (BT, p. 6).
And what do you propose we ought to do about it? As individuals, it appears at first as though we were trapped in a perilous situation. But before we resign ourselves to tragedy, let us attempt to ponder a solution by answering the critics.
The Critics
To the theologian, we respond that God cannot be made fully conscious, i.e. there can be no rational proofs of God’s existence. To think of God as another kind of being that might be understood as we understand a car or a house is to forget that God is not a single entity in space-time, but Being itself. Any attempt to describe God remains hopelessly flawed, as Being seems forever to jump ahead of the understanding, not because of its own motion,[4] but due to the understanding’s standing within the becomingness of time. If we assume for a moment that the theologian is Christian, we ask why the religion of Jesus became a religion about Jesus. That is, why must the story of Christ refer only to the single historical incarnation of Jesus of Nazareth and not to everyman whose paradoxical experience may lead them to the same transformation and rebirth? Why must the example of Jesus be worshipped rather than followed? I am not suggesting that the literal Biblical story be reenacted by moderns; just that such doctrinal restrictions leave Christians without an experiential connection to God because the savior appears to be a separate being with no significant relation to them. The market effect of this brand of Christianity has been to raise a society of moral lemmings in need of the educational support of an elite class of priests. In the case of reformed Christianity, church services have been reduced to “the centuries-old echo” of the “chatter among men about this thing” (PF, p. 71) the savior. Christianity has lost an essential component by not doctrinally offering an experiential connection with God before death. “Perhaps a particular philosopher had doubted for all just as Christ suffered for all, and is one now only supposed to believe it and not doubt for oneself?” (JC, p. 154).
To the atheist, we can say only that one need not deny something that does not exist. If it does not exist, why even bring it up? Nietzsche declared, “God is dead” (E, p. 67), but this in no way implies God’s non-existence. On the contrary, the psychic fact of God’s death has had an untold effect on the spiritual life of modern humanity. As we have already shown, anything that acts is actual. It matters not how we decide to divide experience into illusion and reality, as such distinctions occur after the pre-conceptual psychic facts have already had their influence on us. If the atheist must declare that he/she does not believe, the faithful can only respond by asking: What is it that you do not believe in? For the faithful themselves, mere words such as “God” or “Spirit” do not contain the mysteriousness of their own commitment. One has faith, not in an idea or a word, but in a non-idea, in an unknown. Surely then, to disbelieve, one must either, a) set up a straw man in place of true religion, thereby rejecting only an idol, or, b) be unable to let go of their own supposed knowledge of the truth.[5] It seems then that the faithful do not know what they believe and the unfaithful do not know what they disbelieve, the only difference between them being that the faithful admit their ignorance while the unfaithful wallow in pride.
To the scientist, we first applaud their open-mindedness. We next direct them to the intimate study of any one of a number of non-dual contemplative traditions, whether it be Vedanta Hinduism, Taoism, Sufism, Zen Buddhism, or even Christianity.[6] Each tradition provides a unique path or method of dialogue with the eternal that is designed to convince the seeker that they are the unity they are searching for. Each path amounts to an experiment; if the scientist consents to follow the way, they may experience something remarkable.
This remarkable encounter with the infinite may require that the scientist reevaluate their philosophical assumptions. This leads us to the philosopher, whose criticism it seems we must accept. Bertrand Russell put it thus: “I believe that, when the mystics contrast ‘reality’ with ‘appearance,’ the word ‘reality’ has not a logical, but an emotional, significance: it means what is, in some sense, important” (RS). We agree that it is important, but we find it of greater importance to explore exactly why the scientist’s philosophical assumptions may lead to a biased interpretation of said mystical experience. If it were true that the distinction between the sacred and the profane is an “emotional” one, then the scientist’s observational techniques would negate a priori the results of any contemplative experiment. The scientific method demands reason and reservation; it cannot run roughshod over the facts because it wishes to express an agreeable sentiment. But reason itself does not require that we employ a specific metaphysical interpretation to our direct experience. The scientist may remain lucid even while allowing their own subjectivity to become an aspect of utmost importance to their investigation. Much like the training required for traditional experimental scientific work, the mental training required before a scientist of experience were capable of such psychic gymnastics would be extensive. Indeed, we might even be forced to suppose that only those who are already naturally inclined to seek out so profound an understanding of themselves could fill such roles adequately. This is a complete makeover of our historical image of the scientist, that given him by Sir Francis Bacon as he who conquers and subjugates nature to his own will. Bacon’s science is the science of masculinity; it is sterile, penetrating, efficient, and manipulative.[7] The science we are attempting to articulate above is a feminine science; it is vital, expressive, and can observe without interference. Instead of accepting as evidence only what is sensed externally, it is open to what is intuited inwardly. The philosopher’s claim that emotion is essential to the mystical experience does not necessarily prevent scientific observation. On the contrary, as long as the scientist acknowledges their own subjectivity while retaining the discriminative abilities of their intellect, value can become a verifiable aspect of existence and a science of revelation becomes possible. This new science, though, is not a science whose truths are easily communicable. The study of higher states of consciousness is open only to individual scientists and its results may have little relevance for others who haven’t yet done the necessary experiments.
It is for exactly this reason that the politician is suspicious of the value mystics attribute to their “higher, holier purposes.” It is not because such values are too emotional, but because they are irrelevant to the lives of most people. The mystic contemplates God, delving into the unconscious realms of the psyche in search of the archetypal structures that hold the key to immortality and authentic existence, while millions of average people starve or are killed because of public inaction and negligence. Action, it would seem, is what matters for the politician. He demands real world results, changes that are seen and that have a verifiable effect on the lives of average citizens. More than anything else, though, the politician, the man of the world, demands that we confront and destroy evil. He says of the mystics that they ignore all the terrible and unjust aspects of the world, that they pretend everything reduces to unity and love when it takes only eyes to see that it does not. The mystic can only respond by questioning the politician’s understanding of evil. While the politician relates to evil heroically as though it were an outside force with its own autonomous will and motives, the mystic sees it as a psychic manifestation of everything the self cannot accept about its own nature. It is true, the mystic will agree, that evil may appear to be unrelated to good, but this is because those who define themselves as good do so only because they have repressed their evil side. This repressed evil is projected by the unconscious onto anyone who opposes the will of what has consciously been deemed good. This psychic mechanism of repression and projection is the individual’s only recourse after they have identified themselves with goodness. The good is not good unless it battles evil; it must have an enemy. “Therefore,” says St. Paul, “I discover the principle that in my willing to do the good, the evil is with me” (Romans, 7:21). This coincidence of opposites is the only universal law of the understanding. In all our thought, whether abstract or concrete, it is never transgressed.
The Court of God
Even God has a dark side, but Christian theologians often point to the historical incarnation of Christ as God’s way of absolving evil and redeeming His[8] creation from darkness and sin. God is therefore said to remain pure, as only His Son is given the task of doing battle with the devil. We might think of God as the judge presiding over Jesus as the defendant arguing against Satan as prosecutor. We are the one on trial, the individual facing the judgment of God. This situation creates in us a feeling of intense self-reflection. After deeper contemplation, we may become aware that this is a trial as much about the nature of God as it is about our own. God has set up the courtroom and allowed the forces of good and evil their equal say. He would only do so because He has not yet decided upon the matter for Himself. As likenesses created in the image of God, our fate is also His fate. God is preparing only His own judgment-and is not this ability to judge oneself from God’s perspective what our own consciousness really amounts to? We speak candidly of our normal, everyday selves as “conscious,” but could it be that in so doing we are giving our profane selves too much credit? Self-reflection may be a better term for the action of the secular self, as it suggests something more akin to self-manipulation or self-control. As self-reflective beings, we observe parts of ourselves (such as our memories or knowledge) and employ them to solve specific problems. We function in the world as a self-reflecting ego by being aware of one thing at a time, by making compromises and weighing disparate options. Through all this, though, we never become aware of our own unconscious. Only a fully aware and conscious being can understand itself completely. But it does not look back upon a part of itself in order to change it so that it might function more efficiently. It looks back only to behold itself as itself, with no thought of utility or effecting change. It does so because what it sees is the perfection of imperfection. It recognizes all at once that existence is beautiful beyond comprehension precisely because it often seems so ugly. Do not be fooled by these apparent contradictions; the religious state of mind becomes sheer nonsense when the logical methods of philosophy are applied to it. An unmediated mystical state cannot occur until the knot of the concept-bound mind, obsessed with language and pulled tight by doubt, has been released into the pure and immediate openness of faith.
Who am I?
We might say, then, that the mystical experience occurs when God beholds itself as “I,” the formerly separate, sinful individual. This mystical state of consciousness is human-remembering-divinity or a rebinding of the finite with the infinite. “It is precisely a failure to remember,” says Ananda Coomaraswamy, “that drags down from the heights of the soul that which has walked with God and had some vision of the truths, but cannot retain it” (EIC, p. 77).
The suffering individual may now be cast in a new light. Rather than a helpless cog thrown into an uncaring world alongside other beings utterly alien to ourselves, we become God in disguise playing at being a part of His own created world. In all our seeming anguish, we are never anything but our own victims. The “I” who suffers is an illusion brought about by a God that wishes to forget Himself. For what else could an omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient God of love possibly want to do but suffer the exact fate of those He has created? The infinite implies all that is finite, as to be truly infinite means also to exist finitely, even if it is just for a time.
What, then, is the solution to the dilemma of the suffering individual? It is precisely to ask that most fundamental of religious questions: “Who am I?” I have asked the question repeatedly, one may say, and it has not yet brought me to God, only deeper into confusion and sin. We are reminded at this point that “the question is asked by one who in his ignorance does not even know what provided the occasion for his asking in this way” (PF, p. 9). The question may be re-posited, then, as: How are we to arrive at the dissolution of the dilemma of the suffering individual? In other words, how are we to come to realize that the occasion of the question itself created the problem? As William Blake has said, “The fool who persists in his folly will become wise” (MHH). Precisely by attempting the impossibility of coming to ourselves, of waking up once and for all, we realize that we “…cannot by any means do it [but] that IS it. That is the mighty self-abandonment that gives birth to the stars” (BT, 229). “That” is what the mystics know through unknowing, that “thou art that.”

Works Cited

1) Blake, William. The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. New York: Oxford University Press. 1975.
2) Cahn, Steven M. Ten Essential Texts in the Philosophy of Religion. New York: Oxford University Press. 2005.
3) Chaudhuri, Haridas. Evolution of Integral Consciousness. Wheaton, Ill.: Quest. 1977.
4) Harding, Sandra. Whose Science? Whose knowledge?: Thinking From Woman’s Lives. New York: Cornell University Press. 1991.
5) Kierkegaard, Soren. Trans. Hong, Howard V. and Hong, Edna H. The Sickness Unto Death. Princeton: Princeton University Press. 1983.
6) Kierkegaard, Soren. Trans. Hong, Howard V. and Hong, Edna H. Philosophical Fragments and Johannes Climacus. Princeton: Princeton University Press. 1985.
7) Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. Trans. Smith, Colin. Phenomenology of Perception. New York: Routledge. 1962.
8) Roheim, Geza. Gates of the Dream. New York: International University Press. 1953.
9) Russell, Bertrand. Religion and Science. New York: Oxford University Press. 1961.
10) Solomon, Robert C. Existentialism. 2nd Edition. New York: Oxford University Press. 2005.
11) Watts, Alan. Beyond Theology: The Art of Godmanship. New York: The World Publishing Co. 1967.
[1] The sacred is the holy. The holy is that which is whole, rather than fractured or partial.
[2] (At least any good modern philosopher). To have knowledge of absolutes, one must first absolutize knowledge. Such an absolution amounts to declaring everything to be conscious.
[3] Hollow is not synonymous with hole in this context because it refers to the middle space between something surrounding, rather than the purer emptiness suggested by Hegel’s “hole in being.” A hollow has an inside and an outside, while a hole implies only vacancy.
[4] Being is eternal and infinite. As eternity, it has no time within which to move. As infinity, it has no space through which to travel. Therefore, it is motionless.
[5] The atheist typically asserts that there is no truth, failing to notice their own contradiction.
[6] The list could go on indefinitely, the only qualification being that the tradition is non-dual. That is, the final and supreme truth for the tradition must be both all encompassing and completely ineffable. This assures that they lead to no specific finite dogmas, but remain fixed on the infinite and unknowable.
[7] Bacon: “For you have but to hound nature in her wanderings, and you will be able when you like to lead and drive her afterwards to the same place again. Neither ought a man to make scruple of entering and penetrating into those holes and corners when the inquisition of truth is his whole object” (WSWK, p. 43).
[8] The masculine personal pronoun used in this context is not at all necessary and might be better replaced with the androgynous “Thou.” However, the grammatical context makes this awkward, and so for aesthetic reasons I refer to God as “He.” Using “It” would further confuse the reader, turning God into an object when the author intends for Him to be confronted as a subject, or rather the subject.

The End of the Word (preliminary remarks)

To engage in philosophy is attempt to wake up from a dream. I had one once where I dreamt of these men’s thoughts:

I believe one of the things Christianity says is that sound doctrines are all useless. That you have to change your life. (Or the direction of your life.) It says that wisdom is all cold; and that you can no more use it for setting your life to rights than you can forge iron when it is cold. The point is that a sound doctrine need not take hold of you; you can follow it as you would a doctor’s prescription. –But here you need something to move you and turn you in a new direction. Once you have been turned round, you must stay turned round. Wisdom is passionless. But faith by contrast is what Kierkegaard calls a passion.
-Ludwig Wittgenstein (Culture and Value, p. 53)

The truly apocalyptic view of the world is that things do not repeat themselves. It isn’t absurd to believe that the age of science and technology is the beginning of the end for humanity; that the idea of great progress is a delusion, along with the idea that the truth will ultimately be known; that there is something good or desirable about scientific knowledge and that mankind, in seeking it, is falling into a trap. It is by no means obvious that this is not how things are.
-Ludwig Wittgenstein (Culture and Value, p. 55)

The miracles of nature. One might say: art shows us the miracle of nature. It is based on the concept of the miracle of nature. (The blossom, just opening out. What is marvelous about it?) We say: “Just look at it opening out!”
-Ludwig Wittgenstein (Culture and Value, p. 55)

The philosophical I is not the human being, nor the human body or the human soul with its psychological properties, but the metaphysical subject, the boundary (not a part) of the world. The human body, however, my body in particular, is a part of the world among others, among animals, plants, stones etc., etc. Whoever realizes this will not want to procure a pre-eminent place for his own body or for the human body. He will regard humans and animals quite naively as objects which are similar and which belong together.
-Ludwig Wittgenstein (On Certainty, p. 84)

It is certain that this I (that is to say, my soul by which I am what I am) is entirely and absolutely distinct from my body and can exist without it.
-Rene Descartes (Meditations, p. 190)

The dreams are subsiding, the ocean is breathing in and revealing the light. I’m straining to open my eyes and remember…

Reality is no longer self-evident. As a result, only fiction is real. Even a book about the death of philosophy must itself be presented as fiction, as a story told by an author who can’t be sure what has happened until it has been written. This story is mostly about words. But words are mere senseless scratches on a page without a world to give them meaning. And so this story of words is also the story of the world, of its creation and its destruction. But the world, too, is a meaningless concept until words have been mastered. Without a language, what about the world can be known? Indeed, what world could exist without the word?

Surely, nature exists. But to say that nature is contained by the world, that nature is a part of the world, is to suppose that what can be known trumps what cannot. We often speak of the mysteries of nature, as though any such thing could exist in the known world of man. We say that the nature of death remains a mystery, but even to phrase it in such a way supposes that life were not also mysterious. We suppose we know the meaning of the word “world” and from this follows all our claims to knowledge.

…I see the clock, I see the calendar, I see my desk and the world outside my window.

In the following pages, we proclaim the end of the word, and by proxy, the world. All will go on as before, though our idea of it will have changed completely.

What is the world? The world is the place where I am. But where am I? I am here, as my body. So what is the world I live with as my body?

Before we can answer that question, we must find our way toward the beginnings of a technique of inquiry. To discover the body’s relationship with the world, we should first look at its parent’s with their worlds. The mother is overwhelmed. She works to mend the sick day and night, but her children are too busy to notice. She supplies the bread, the water, the oil, the paper. But we pay her no attention even as her heart begins to skip. The father is regretful. He loves his children, but he cannot express it because his mind is overwhelmed. He knows nothing about their lives; he has lost himself in his own. The children are confused; they cannot understand their futures.

See through the lens of the family and focus your view of the world. The mother is earth, her resources exploited and her ecosystem destroyed. The father is culture, his conscience on Prozac, unable to feel, distracted by gadgetry. The children are the ones without a future, the ones with no time.

The world is on fire; my heart burns silently through the night as my mind stares blankly into darkness. I cannot think, cannot feel, can only lay and learn to die. Unable to communicate, we wage war to defend our dictionaries. Bible vs. Science, Spirit vs. Matter, America vs. The World. It ends when the pages begin to burn and the fire cannot be stopped.

For a moment, I am afraid to comprehend it all. I chase after the receding sea, calling for the surf to return. But darkness leaves too soon. The brightness of the light burns my face. I manage to squint and steal a few more drops of water…

What is going to happen, language? Speak. Reveal your secret plan.

Let it be known: You will not be able to understand each other. Everyone will become blind and forget their own names and no one will be able to sleep. The plants and animals will die. The air will run out. The volcanoes will erupt and the sky will blacken. The waves will roll over the land. Winter will turn water into ice. Everything will end, everything will be dead. The Sun will explode and nothing will remain.

I open my eyes, and they begin to speak to one another:

The Cartographer (right eye): What, would you say, is the essential difference between humanity and nature?

The Sailor (left eye): The essential difference seems to me to amount to mere words.

The Cartographer (right eye): Do you mean that we ought not to ask such a question? That it is a meaningless proposition?

The Sailor (left eye): I may mean that, but really I mean that the difference seems to be that we speak and nature does not. We have words, and while the stars may shine serenely, the rivers rumble romantically, the birds chirp cheerfully, and the dolphins echo excitedly, all have contained in their gestures an immediately present and available meaning, a self-evident truth. Only humans can delay their meaning; only they have the ability (or desire) to exchange mere symbols in place of reality.

The Cartographer (right eye): Surely there are times when a human gesture expresses an immediate meaning, such as when a hand is waved goodbye or a middle finger is cocked in disgust. But I take it you do not mean to discount this possibility?

The Sailor (left eye): Certainly, I do not discount it. I seek to promote it! Such immediately meaningful gestures are the only remaining life in man. All else has been covered over with culture, with a fear of death. Humanity today is an aging, possibly near dead author who long ago finished its encyclopedia explaining everything and who has now fallen asleep atop its pages to dream merrily of the conceptual conquest of nature compiled therein. Humanity inherits a world created by the imaginations of an original and elite few that long ago carved theoretical paths through the dark forests of the mind, paths we continue to follow up until this day. Indeed, most humans do so with great pride and with a sense of sacred duty. Seldom has anyone mustered up the faith to think otherwise, but the few who have seen outside the cave are confronted with a new and unexpected challenge.

The Cartographer (right eye): Is the challenge one of convincing those chained within the cave that there is an outside that they have never seen?

The Sailor (left eye): On the surface, it is exactly that. But it is also more than that. It is also that the few who have seen immediately realize that they are incapable of accurately conveying the truth, beauty, and goodness of what they have been privy to experiencing on the outside in the language of the cave dwellers trapped on the inside. In order to be understood, they must speak the language of the ignorant, but to do so is already to falter.

The Cartographer (right eye): Why does the language falter in itself? It would seem at first glance that the English language were dynamic enough that it could be manipulated to convey almost every possible meaning that could be understood.

The Sailor (left eye): The problem is not so much with the language itself, but with the way it is used. The cave dwellers treat their words poorly, and they therefore derive from their use a dualistic view of what exists. It is thought that there are two kinds of propositions: true and false. All statements are examined under the assumption of this fundamental dichotomy. This separation between the real and the unreal is a by-product of the aforementioned ability and desire of humanity to make a symbol of reality so that it can exchange the former and ignore the latter. Only after this abstraction has occurred can there ever be a distinction between a true statement and a false one. When one attempts to speak about the outside of the cave, however, there are no longer true and false statements. Any talk of the outside must be heard for what it is, for its self-evident meaning.

The Cartographer (right eye): Are you suggesting that we typically use our language only in order to get something else, i.e., to prove a thing correct or incorrect? Further, are you then meaning to say that in order for the few who have seen the light to be properly understood, those in the darkness need just open up and let the light in?

The Sailor (left eye): This seems to be exactly what I would want to say. The everyday use of language is rigged from the beginning to provide only a perpetual pointing toward something more, toward what is always and inevitably absent. It is never satisfying and we could go on talking about everything and nothing for ten thousand years and never once would a worthwhile thought be uttered. When everyone speaks in order to be right, to be correct and true as opposed to false, then no one can ever agree because each person desires to go on arguing until they themselves are declared the winner and sole possessor of the truth. Such declarations, if they ever occur, are usually short lived. A new and more inclusive truth will always be discovered, and if not then some inconsistency will be pointed out in the reigning idea and its claims will be torn down, for it is better to have no truth than have my own truth be in the wrong. If the ignorant could simply open up and let the light in, I am sure that they would understand. But such an opening is made to seem laughable by caveman standards. Taking anyone’s mere words for granted is a cardinal sin.

The Cartographer (right eye): In what lies the great power you here seem to be attributing to words?

The Sailor (left eye): The secret power of words is that it is they and they alone that make humans conscious. Cave dwellers have a dual relationship with the influence of words. On the one hand, they enact a strange kind of worship toward them by viewing nature always through their lenses. Hurricanes become something we hear the meteorologist talk about on TV, a digital swirl superimposed atop a cartoonish map of the world, not something we actually experience first hand. The flooding, the lightning, the devastating wind; all of the actual event’s terrible reality becomes simply “hurricane.” When actual hurricanes really do hit, people are at a loss and feel as though reality has come crashing down all around them. What has really come crashing down is their ordered and conceptualized dictionary-like understanding of the world. The other, seemingly contradictory view of language taken by the ignorant is that it should never be mistaken for the reality. In other words, one should always be on the look out for liars, cheats, and propagandists. Humanity is therefore under the unconscious spell of its words while at the same time pretending with all its conscious might not to be.

The Cartographer (right eye): “Language alone makes humans conscious.” Might you say more about this?

The Sailor (left eye): The way a person speaks is not necessarily the way they think, but it is the only way they can be conscious of what they think. Human consciousness is generally thought to exist ontologically in each individual as some separate substance or quality, however what we call “consciousness” is actually nothing more than a continual dialogue that goes on throughout the entire speaking/listening/reading/writing community. The words that humans use to communicate form the vessels of conscious thought. Without the right vessel, no thought can be conveyed. The vessels themselves are not owned by any one, but are shared by all. I must, in a sense, ask permission to use each word in whatever context I wish to employ it. If my request is denied, the statement I was trying to make will not have been understood. The unconscious thoughts that occur within each individual that cannot be communicated are still present for the one experiencing them; however, for the community they amount to nothing whatsoever and are totally absent.

My conscious mind awakens finally and unifies the duality of the eyes into a single I. My vision becomes my voice, the world becomes the word. The ocean is but an echo, the darkness but a dream. It is time to go to work, time to be me.

It is going to be quite difficult for me to write this book. I have felt the need to for some time, but the reason I have never written one yet is that I find it difficult to systematize my ideas. That is because they are not my ideas. I don’t understand what most of the things I say mean. I only write them down in fits of passion and inspiration where they seem to pass through me, rather then origination within me. I cannot write intentionally. I cannot intend to be correct. I am too aware of my left hand to trust entirely my right. So don’t expect this book to make sense or follow an outline. There is no table of contents or list of characters. I don’t know what I am going to write, who it will be for, or who it will be about. I may never know. I am writing only because the words need to be heard, if not by you, then by me.

Every highway leads to Babylon. A simple midnight drive home turns into a tour of the apocalypse.

I am a philosopher in hell, a mind trapped inside a body that doesn’t belong to me. See, Descartes didn’t just create a new philosophical outlook, he invented the modern self. YOU are an invention of Rene Descartes! Welcome to Copernicus’ New World Order!

But of course, Descartes believed in God. God was one of his beliefs, one of his assumptions, an archetype still too unconscious for him to understand. Nietzsche went crazy giving birth to the beast, to the idea that man could possibly ever murder God. Most of us haven’t yet realized that God is dead. Or maybe we have, but we are afraid to admit that assuming we can know is already to give God the finger. Descartes assumed that man could have knowledge of himself, that all of the mind was conscious because God had decided to give man a soul, a complete soul!, with every outfit, ability, function, and tool to get the job of life done. He assumed that God had commanded nature to obey the mind of man, to conform to his ideas and his wishes and his beliefs. But Nietzsche saw that man was alone to face nature, and that nature would not look kindly upon our increasing stupidity and morality. We were alone to face the chaos and terror of the wild, not to mention the void nothingness of meaningless black space. But of course Descartes knew this all along. He just checked out, so to speak. He died before his body died by irreversibly amputating himself from the existing world of flesh and bone. He declared himself already a ghost, already a dead man walking. His only way of reaching the outside world was through his symbols. Through the ideas of his own mind, his letters and his words and his sentences. If he cannot be heard or read, he is silent, because his body cannot say a word. His body is worthless and unintelligent, an assembly of gears and oil that sometimes the mind can reason into intentional motion, but that usually follows the predetermined patterns of its form and nature. But Nietzsche could not commit suicide, he was determined to live, to discover what it meant to be a man without God, a superman. He could still feel his body, he was connected to the sensation of the decay of his own existence…. and yet, and yet… what did he do but write about it? And what can I do but write about it? How can either of us return to nature if all we can do is make more symbols that point towards it?

But back to the drive… I started thinking, i.e., existing, about how all the signs on the highway were written specifically for me. For my eyes, for me to read. But then I started thinking about what all those symbols meant, about what they were referring to. An idea? But what is that? Is it the memory of my prior experiences of following those particular arrows? But forget all this talk of signs, the point of this book is that the signs don’t point anywhere! There are no destinations, there are only directions. So I was driving down the highway, east, towards the ocean. My heart began to burn, and I mean that quite literally. A police motorcycle with blue LED lights on the back end spend by in the far left lane. Then it hit me. I looked at all the other cars on the road.

I said out loud, “There are so many people here…”

“So many people are going to die.”

I started to cry, but don’t take this like a prophecy. I just felt it, every other car out there had a person in it, and that person’s heart was beating right then, because they were alive (just like me). But just like me, they were all going to die one day, maybe tomorrow, maybe 50 years from now. But none of them were aware of it. And there are SO MANY PEOPLE… I loved each and every one of them and I had no idea what they looked like, or sounded like (or smelt like, or tasted like). It was as though my heart was opening up and with it, each of my senses. I could feel again, with more than just my eyes. It was as though I could know with my ears, with my nose, and with my tongue! Not only that, I could know with my heart. The heart’s knowledge was that I was not alone, that there were billions of others just like me! I couldn’t sense them with my face, but I could feel them with my heart.

Others just like me! As the Mayans say: “In La’ kech,” or I am another yourself. There is only reflection, there is no separation. Your have no representations of the world in your mind, you have only reflections of it. The inside of your head is much like the outside of the world, both are full of stuff and nonsense. Sometimes some stuff pairs up with nonsense and a symbol is born. Form is assigned to substance, just like the moment of creation when God made Adam from the dust of the earth. The mind of man claims knowledge of nature by replacing it with a sign.

Duality is a dizzying game to play. For most of history, man has compared himself to God in order to understand his place. A few men along the way saw they had only themselves to judge, and fewer understood that no judge existed at all.

We are all here together. The ego in your gut does not need to die, it just needs a new master. The heart is our connection to each other, it keeps us all in rhythm. You cannot identify with your heart because all identities are ideas and all ideas are for you and you alone. You can share an idea, but you must put it into words to pass it on. And there is no telling what will happen to your words once you send them out to sea to be read by the stormy minds of others. The weather will erase random letters and a new story will be revealed. Your intention was drown the moment you set it afloat.

To understand the heart, we must see our reflection. Your eyes are the eye of God. God is a single I. God sees through your dual eyes. You see everything on the screen of a TV while God beams it out from heaven. So wake up and say hello to your fellow selves, shake their hands, and say:

“Hello God. Hello friend. Hello heart. I love you.”

Look into the eyes of God and see the world reflected back. That is you, that is God, welcome home (to where the heart is).

I exited under the familiar sign, “Hollywood Blvd.” Home sweet home. The traffic light shined red. I stopped. A shirtless old man walked the curb beside my car and held another sign, one he’d made himself. It said, “Hungry, Homeless, Need Beer.”
I felt for the quarter in my ash tray, but thought that wasn’t quite enough. The light turned green. My heart jumped as it remembered the $100 bill in my back pocket. My gut responded that that was quite too much. I drove on home. So many people are going to die…

Marvin Minsky’s Emotion Machine and My Own Consciousness

Is higher immediacy not unlike satori? That is, to really get at the nature of the human being, to really “understand” what it means to be human, is it not required that the human that wishes to “understand” change the way they are in the world, that they somehow re-interpret the meaning of their experience? This change in the way they are in the world is unlike a merely new way of intellectually formulizing existence. It is not a new vocabulary one adapts that clears up why everything is the way it is. On the contrary, it is a new way of being related to language and to existence, not merely a new use of language or a new definition of existence. … Lower immediacy is nature in all its non-human manifestations. Humans developed the seeming ability to delay this immediacy. It becomes mediation, which is verbalization. At its lowest, this verbalization is idle chatter (folk psychology); at its highest, it is philosophy. The former is an immediate-mediacy, while the latter is a mediate-mediacy. We might here substitute Freud’s words: Id, Ego, and Super-ego in place of lower immediacy, immediate-mediacy, and mediate-mediacy (in that order). This seems to be the hermeneutical lens through which Minsky wants to understand the human condition. It suits him as a computer scientist attempting to build an “emotion machine” because it is supposed to explain how “higher order” thought processes like “value” and “meaning” and “ethics” can arise out of a totally naturalistic system. Naturalism demands that all of nature be explainable, if not right now then at least soon enough. Freud’s understanding of the mind was an early attempt at naturalization that failed only (I think Minsky would say) because he lacked the proper theoretical understanding of the brain, or he lacked the abstract ability to break down a complicated process such as the mind into its simpler components. Minsky seems to think computers might allow us succeed with Freud’s theory by picking up where he left off and deciphering the necessary complexities. It seems that he wants to turn emotions into another way of thinking because wants to show how they are just one more tool the brain uses to accomplish its tasks. Distinguishing between emotions and thoughts no longer becomes useful for Minsky’s project because he must explain emotions (i.e. he must verbalize them, make them understandable, objectify them) in order to build a machine that employs them. So our “folk” understanding might lead us to believe that emotions are “internal” and subjective processes that cannot be understood, that they are incommensurable with “external” thoughts, or justifications that can be spoken and articulated intelligibly. Minsky has to do away with this distinction or no “emotion machine” could be built. He must reduce the internal state to the external state because only the external state can be explained and then built. … Immediate-mediacy is unaware of its mediation; it has taken on its culture so unabashedly that it is transformed into nature. This is why the ego can communicate so directly with its peers; it exists in the culture immediately without a view from the outside. Intersubjectivity is all the ego amounts to and so it cannot remain an ego if it becomes florid. Mediate-mediacy is, at least to a point, aware of its own mediacy; it doubts more often than immediacy, reflecting on what is heard before coming to any conclusions (unless it is skeptical, in which case a conclusion not to conclude has been made). For those in mediate-mediacy, nothing is irrational, everything can be explained (at least in theory). Anything that has not yet been understood objectively is approached with the assumption that it is hiding something. An investigation is required in order to discover the misunderstanding. Mediate-mediacy is the super-ego, always doubting, always feeling guilty for what it has done as an ego. This notion of our highest faculty or level of thinking being the one that reminds us of our “sin,” so to speak, is no doubt drawn from the Judeo-Christian tradition. In pointing this out, I do not mean to reduce Freud’s formulization to “nothing more” than a mythological ploy. I’d rather like to say that such mythological ways of thinking are hardly “nothing but”; rather, I think the important issue is for scientists like Minsky to acknowledge their cultural context and their need to use mythologically-founded metaphors to describe their theories to anyone in their community. Such theories are always approximations; yet many scientists often act as though theirs is the be all and end all, while clearly every theory, to even be understood by anyone else but its formulator, must be expressed in a common mythopoeic and traditional sort of way. … For those in immediate-mediacy, a cloud is just a cloud. For mediate-mediacy, a cloud is precisely not a cloud; it is a collection of water droplets frozen at high altitude by low temperatures and held together by upper atmospheric pressure gradients. Even when a cloud is reduced (and thereby revealed) in this way, mediate-mediacy shows its continuously inconvincible doubt by further questioning the definition. How, it asks, can we be sure that a cloud is really a collection of frozen water droplets and not actually a collection of hydrogen and oxygen atoms? And how can we be sure that those atoms are really discrete particles of matter and not simply “clouds” of possibility? It seems that mediateness brings us full circle, right back into the supposedly concealed expression of nature we find in immediacy. This explains the structure of scientific revolutions: one mediated explanation is pushed to its extreme until the entire paradigm collapses upon itself and, for a brief moment, mediacy becomes immediate. This re-union with nature is brief, though; new churches are soon built to conquer her meaning and reveal her secrets one again. Mediateness cannot forget its doubt, even after glimpses of immediacy. The glimpses are fleeting, it says; they are gone before they can even be understood (in words). I specify about the verbal nature of mediate understanding because there is also another kind of understanding, one that is not mediate. But to call it then immediate is misleading, for it is unlike the lower immediacy of immediate-mediacy. It is a kind of understanding which, quite mysteriously, contradicts mediate-mediacy and yet out paces it to the truth. For mediate-mediacy, the truth is always held at a distance; to bring it any closer would be to forgo one’s duty to remain doubtful. It can therefore never arrive in the truth, it must always postpone it. Only a higher immediacy can carry one into truth, though again it is a truth that is mediately incomprehensible. The immediate truth is the presence of truth, and so it cancels doubt, and therefore mediacy. Mediacy is only sustained by doubt, by the absence of truth. In mediacy, truth is conceived of as dualistic; its opposite is falsehood. A fact is either true of false, right or wrong, correct or incorrect. For higher immediacy, truth has no opposite because existence is self-evidently true. For mediacy, concealment always remains, but in the leap to higher immediacy the loop of the mediate quest for revelation is subsumed and immediacy becomes true even while remaining mysterious. … Higher immediacy sees nature as though it were a lotus. At the surface and from afar, it appears to float freely with glowing white radiance as a heavenly jewel amidst the earthly pond. Upon closer inspection, a root is discovered leading down to the murky depths that birthed it, and its radiance fades into a never-ending inward cascade of pedals that disappear into obscurity, like the sun burns itself up from inside out. Veils behind veils behind veils behind veils whose only “center” is the matrix of creation and destruction, the release and entrapment of light into matter, the source of noumenal insight reflecting phenomenal glow. To exist is to be pulled by both body and soul. E=MC2 means that energy (light) is equal to (but somehow distinguishable from) matter accelerated to lightspeed2. Matter at this “speed” is no longer traveling through spacetime at all, but becomes eternal. The bomb explodes because matter is brought to its limit and converted into light. Light is like the soul, existing throughout all time and space. Matter is like the body, existing in a specific time and place. Together they become life, though it seems that only the human being has the gift that tells them so. … Lower immediacy (Id, nature) Immediate-mediacy (Ego, culture) Mediate-mediacy (Super-ego, philosophy) Higher immediacy (faith, trust in the unknown, embrace of mystery) … This latter category (higher immediacy) is not on Freud’s list, of course. Freud’s project, like Minsky’s, is first to subsume the higher immediacy into the lower, and then to reduce both of them to some intelligible pattern or process. This is the project of naturalism. … If one wishes to take the theoretical position that the human being is no more than an intricate and complex machine, then I must, as an Individual, reply that there is a ghost in the machine. There is no other way for me to authentically describe my own existence. The mechanist responds that my position is incomprehensible and therefore absurd. I can only reply by reminding the mechanist that it was his initial thesis that caused my antithesis to become warranted—and that my actual position on the matter requires synthesis. However, the synthesis required is “silent.” It cannot be communicated because it cannot be predicated. It cannot be predicated because it cannot be objectified. The synthesis requires a leap beyond mediation into higher immediacy. Mediation is a contradiction. Its resolution comes only through synthesis; but again, synthesis is an experiential truth that concerns existence and that therefore cannot be spoken intelligibly because it defies objectification by way of mediation into the universal. All intelligible speech is understandable precisely because it is abstract enough to make sense to everyone. The synthesis of essence and existence, or mind and matter, or soul and body can only be lived; it cannot be thought. What can be thought is the universal, the abstract approximations of common sense rationality, the general truths that apply to all people in all situations—in short, to everyone and no one. Higher immediacy cannot be understood; it has crawled out of the primordial soup of undifferentiated lower immediacy and climbed up the impressive knowledge structures of mediacy. Upon reaching the peak, it realized the only thing left to do was jump, and so it leapt into the unknown immediacy of existence as a synthesis between body and soul. To say that synthesis unites body and soul is not exactly correct. The paradox is that, as a body, each finite individuality gets a full connection to the infinite soul; but as a soul, the infinite gets incarnated into a very particular body and appears to become finite. It is neither way alone, nor is it both, nor neither altogether. The synthesis cannot be understood; it can only be experienced concretely, first-hand. … What does it mean to experience it first-hand, and further, how is one to arrive at such an experience? The latter question appears more foundational epistemologically, so let us start there. One arrives at the experience by becoming a question to themselves. No one else can ask the question for them; others can only point at it, or suggest it. Others can attempt as carefully as they can to articulate the unmanifest, to explain the circular, to describe the featureless, to unveil the transparent, etc.; but they can never handover the experience itself. The experience itself is a personal movement, an entirely interior process of self-reckoning that can only be coaxed by exterior influences, never directly touched, never forced. So the “how” is to ask the question “who am I?” Now, what would this experience mean? What does it point to, what does it lead to, what is its significance? The higher immediacy, like the lower, has the peculiar characteristic of standing for itself. It needs no description. It cannot be expressed because it is itself expression; it expresses of itself. Nature is a glorious celebration of beauty and creation, yet it has absolutely no purpose for itself. It exists, seemingly, because it likes to exist—even in spite of all its struggles. The zebra exists despite the fact that the alligator may eat it. The human being in immediate-mediacy lives on despite the fact that his/her intellect deciphers no such thing as existence, and he/she looks forward to tomorrow despite the fact he/she will die. Unlike lower immediacy, the higher is aware of its lack of final and unambiguous definition. The higher realizes and accepts the relative importance of the mediate, in so far as the mediate correctly remedies the blindness of the lower immediacy. However, the higher immediacy goes one step further, over the edge of the intelligible and into the unknowable abyss of existence, the formlessness of the Goddess, the Tao. The higher immediacy does what can never be proven or rationally justified; it makes its movement precisely because it knows it cannot know. This is the paradox of faith. This is the synthesis, the non-dual, ultimate, absolute reality that can only be lived—never can it be described. Again: the “how” is that we must question ourselves and the “why” dissolves into the unqualified presence of the truth made self-evident by experience of higher immediacy. But how are we to ask who we are? If I were to provide you with a method, you would mistake the method for the answer to the question (you’d mistake the how for the what). I instead remind you that the question is your question, your koan, and I cannot provide you with a method because a method would appear indistinguishable from an answer to the question. If I were to tell you to meditate on emptiness, you would conceptualize emptiness as the answer to the question and thereby ignore the question entirely. Emptiness is a word; its significance is realized only in experience. I can only give you the word, never the experience. This again requires that we revisit the why: What does this question mean? What is the significance of the fact that you have no idea how to answer the seemingly simple question of who you are? This dialectic between the how and the why forces us to confront a contradiction; it forces the experience of a paradox upon us. We can only respond in one of two ways: Either we reject the situation (by turning away from the question) and devolve into insanity (fragmentation, nihilism, schizophrenia, etc.), or we accept it and leap into mystery. If we reject it in the way the mechanist rejects it, our insanity may be indefinitely delayed so long as we remain hopeful that, at least eventually, the how (the what) will explain away the why (the who). In other words, the mechanist delays insanity by attaching him/herself to the validity of a general how (a general what) and ignoring the vital necessity of a why (a specific who). The question of how, for the mechanist, is always: how does “it” work (or what is “it”)? Once the “it” has been mapped and all the interactions of its surfaces have been accounted for, the why becomes superfluous. The mechanist does not find the concrete question “Who am I?” of any substantial use because for him/her the essence of the substantial is an abstraction; it applies everywhere and to everyone. The who (the why) dissolves into the necessity of the universal (the how and the what). The spiritualist disagrees, because for him/her the essence of the substantial is existence itself (the what implies the who as its basis); the corporeal reality of flesh and bone human life comes before the abstract mediacy of disembodied theory. This life is most important, more important than the dead abstractions of the mechanist’s how and what. The spiritualist is compelled to question their identity and their inability to come to a final conclusion makes the how and the what superfluous, as he/she recognizes that they will both remain forever uncertain. Certainty is available only to the spiritualist because his/her certainty is the faith required to enter higher immediacy where nothing need be spoken because everything speaks for itself. It nonetheless will always remain foolish regression into childish passion from the mechanist’s point of view, as for them one must always be held accountable and be able to provide rational and understandable justifications for their beliefs. The silence of faith is to the mechanist complete and utter foolishness. Indeed, it may even be considered morally reprehensible.

Originally posted April 2007

Truth is Subjectivity

“Truth is said [by logicians] to consist in the agreement of knowledge with the object,” says Kant (45). At first glance, we may be sympathetic to such an empirical definition of truth. It appears to make the comprehension of truth possible for any and all who are willing to collect proper measurements and requires no special disposition on the part of the knower. For no matter the mood of the observer, the object, as measured, remains the same. However, if we proceed to deduce from this premise its logical consequences, we find that because “the object is external to me, and the knowledge is in me, I can only judge whether my knowledge of the object agrees with my knowledge of the object” (45). This is a tautology and so Kant qualifies this notion of truth as a “mere verbal definition” (45).

We agree with Kant that this nominal definition of truth as correspondence between an idea and the world as such is incomplete, but we also go one step further, passionately rejecting it as “a chimera of abstraction” (TET, 315). The philosopher-logician has forgotten that he is an existing being. We must therefore attempt to remind him that “existence is the very separation that prevents the purely logical flow” from ideality to reality (CUP, 55).

“Modern philosophy,” says Kierkegaard “has tried anything and everything in the effort to help the individual to transcend himself objectively” (TET, 315). As a result, every existing individual, every subjective consciousness, has been made to seem “accidental” (TET, 313). Existence itself has similarly been transformed into “something indifferent, something vanishing” (TET, 313). Philosophy takes as its duty the objectification of truth precisely in order to escape the danger of madness, as if truth were found by way of a subjective passion, it becomes, at least empirically, impossible to tell the difference between insanity and genius. Such a lack of verifiability makes the philosopher uneasy, and so he attempts to satisfy his doubting nature by turning his own subjectivity into an abstraction. Thus indifferent to himself, he has presupposed that the truth need have no relation to his existence. All that matters is the object, which in his formulation is also what is most concrete. He can therefore record the variety he finds in nature and transcribe it into language so that anyone could read it and thereby be privy to the truth. Kierkegaard rejects this characterization of truth as too easy because “all eternal decisiveness is rooted in subjectivity” (TET, 313). To be an existing being, in his view, is to be first and foremost a subjective being. We must therefore reverse the philosopher’s understanding of what is concrete with what is abstract. “The objectivity which has thus come into being [for the philosopher] is, from the subjective point of view at the most, either a hypothesis or an approximation” (TET, 313). So much for the philosopher’s supposed adherence to the doctrine of doubt. By attempting to find truth through reflection rather than relation, the philosopher “is overcome in pure thinking” because “he has taken the whole matter imaginatively into a sphere where there is no relation to actuality at all” (CUP, 75). His doubt has become “about one thing and another, about this or that, about something and something else” rather than the much more difficult “speculative doubt about everything” (JC, 165).

In contrast to the philosopher’s transcendent idealism, Kierkegaard demands that in our search for the truth we remember our existence as individuals, and that “existence is a process of becoming” (TET, 315). Truth as correspondence is “only an expectation of the creature; not because the truth is not such an identity, but because the knower is an existing individual for whom the truth cannot be such an identity so long as he lives in time” (TET, 315). Truth understood as the reflection of an objective world indifferent to our inward subjectivity is simply not a viable option for us once we have come to accept our finite and uncertain relationship with the eternal. For as soon as we objectify existence, we negate ourselves and turn reality into a theoretical abstraction. We forget that we are irrevocably involved in our lives and that death is growing always nearer. We ignore the stench of decay and the vague intimations of sudden catastrophe that taint our future. Any honest reflection on our own condition reveals that we have not a moment to spare in deciding upon our attitude toward life, for as soon as we begin to stall and delay, as soon as we conjure excuses to withhold commitment, we have already decided on indecision and become a chain of procrastination that fickles about between options as though existence were trying to sell us a new watch on a street corner. Our date with death will soon arrive and it will be too late to chose. But it is said, “The day of one’s death is better than the day of one’s birth, …because that is the end of every man and the living takes it to heart” (Ecclesiastes 7: 1-2). The hearts of the living, indeed, must take life seriously, for when its interests are repressed life becomes just another worthless transaction amidst the mundane chores of our secular day. The philosopher’s doubt is a fraud, and he does not deserve the name, for he hides the nearness of his inward passion behind the objects he fashions with his matter-obsessed mind. Let us return, then, to a state of genuine doubt, the starting point of all philosophy, and attempt to discover why truth appears so elusive.

Before we can doubt genuinely, we must establish what is essential for a doubting mind. Let us first ask, then, what it would mean for doubt to be an impossibility, for it to be outside our consciousness. To be incapable of doubt is to be trapped in immediacy, in the now moment that lasts indefinitely without division or qualification. In such a state, everything is indeterminate, which means “everything is true, but this truth is untruth the very next moment, for in immediacy everything is untrue” (JC, 167). In immediacy, then, everything is both true and untrue and so “the question of truth is canceled” (JC, 167). In such a state of child-like innocence, doubt has not yet become necessary. It only becomes so when the question of truth is raised, as “the moment I ask about truth, I have already asked about untruth” (JC, 167). Doubt arises because of this seeking after truth, which in immediacy had not yet left us. We ask the question and immediacy is canceled and brought into relation with a new state of consciousness: mediacy. If immediacy is reality itself in its undifferentiated, unnamed, uncreated state, mediacy is the word. Language cancels immediacy by “giving expression to it, for that which is given expression is always presupposed” (JC, 168). In order to describe what I experience immediately without words in words, I must accept immediacy even while taking a step beyond it into mediacy (i.e., I must already understand reality even though I question it in ideality). This, of course, is a contradiction—but it is this contradiction that allows doubt to take hold in consciousness. We must remember, though, “so long as this exchange [between immediacy and mediacy] takes place without mutual contact, consciousness exists only according to its possibility” (JC, 168). In other words, when only a reflection is present, no consciousness exists, as reflection is merely a disinterested possible relation between reality and ideality, while consciousness constitutes the relation and is interested. In consciousness, reality and ideality collide and give rise to a contradiction that, for the individual, is experienced inwardly as a paradox. As subjective beings, we can never know for sure about the world in itself because our finite historical perspectives always limit us. Instead, the highest form of truth available to us is best described as “an objective uncertainty held fast in an appropriation-process of the most passionate inwardness” (CUP, 319). Such a passionate inwardness has given up the possibility of objective certainty, but nonetheless believes that certainty is possible through other means. By way of a leap of faith, one can appropriate truth so that its validity is vital and significant, in contrast to the petty indifferences of factual knowledge and theoretical understanding. Life must be lived in such a way that we are never quite sure where we will end up tomorrow, no matter how well we may plan out our schedule. We must “have the power to concentrate the whole result of the operations of thought in one act of consciousness” (FT, 53). If we lack this intensity, our soul is “from the beginning dispersed in the multifarious, [we] will never get time to make the movements [the leap], [we] will be constantly running errands in life, never enter into eternity, for even at the instant when [we are] closest to it [we] will suddenly discover that [we have] forgotten something for which [we] must go back” (FT, 54). To live genuinely, then, we must first have doubted completely. We must have come to understand that “In the beginning was the Word, …and all things [including untruth] come into existence by Him” (John 1:1-3). We ask for truth because we speak a language, and as soon as we seek after it, it has already been frayed by the distractedness of mediacy. After doubt has emptied our ideality of its ideas, it is made ready for the blind plunge into the unknown abyss of existence, forgetting everything of worldly attachment, in hopes that what seemed beforehand to be falling is in actuality flying. Taking this leap is, of course, easier said than done, as the act itself

“comes only through desperation…when you know that it is beyond you—beyond your powers of action as beyond your powers of relaxation. When you give up every last trick and device for getting it, including this ‘giving up’ as something that one might do, say at ten o’ clock tonight. That you cannot by any means do it—that IS it! That is the mighty self-abandonment which gives birth to the stars” (BT, 229).
The individual who comes to be conscious of the contradiction present in his own consciousness can at first react only with despair, as “to be in untruth and to be that through one’s own fault” is to live in sin (PF, 15). One cannot escape sin through any act of the will, as St. Paul says: “I discover in my willing to do the good, the evil is with me” (Romans 7:21). To take the leap of faith we must let go even of the desire to let go. We must give ourselves up to the glories of eternity with assurance that immortality is not an impossible wish, but an already present reality. Only then can we face objective uncertainty in the eye with the most sincere doubt and allow the paradox of truth to culminate in a moment of passionate inwardness that releases us into the bosom of divine love and redeems us from sin.

Works Cited

1.Cahn, Steven M. Ten Essential Texts in the Philosophy of Religion. New York: Oxford University Press. 2005.
2.Kant, Immanuel. Trans. By Abbott, Thomas K. Introduction to Logic. New York: Barnes and Noble. 2005.
3.Kierkegaard, Soren. Trans. By Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong. Concluding Unscientific Postscript. New Jersey: Princeton University Press. 1992.
4.Kierkegaard, Soren. Trans. By Walter Lowrie. Fear and Trembling. New Jersey: Princeton University Press. 1954.
5.Kierkegaard, Soren. Trans. By Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong. Philosophical Fragments and Johannes Climacus. New Jersey: Princeton University Press. 1985.
6.Watts, Alan. Beyond Theology: The Art of Godmanship. New York: The World Publishing Co. 1967.