Book Review of Dreyfus & Taylor’s “Retrieving Realism”

World Futures: The Journal of New Paradigm Research just published my review of Hubert Dreyfus and Charles Taylor’s book Retrieving Realism (2015).

9780674967519-lg.jpg

Read my review here (it may be behind a paywall, sorry about that).

I have another expanded article on their book coming out very soon in the International Journal of Transpersonal Studies that brings Whitehead’s organic realism into the conversation. That journal is open-access (and an earlier version of this expanded essay was already posted on this blog some months ago).

Tribute to Wittgenstein

English: Ludwig Wittgenstein / Pencil on board

There was a period of about 3 months back in college when Wittgenstein was all I could read (this essay emerged out of that period). His genius had infected me. I was sure his solutions had dissolved all my philosophical problems (indeed, I thought he’d cured me of philosophy). Of course, back in college, I had only just begun to construct philosophical problems for myself. At that point my collection was minuscule. The most confusing of my two or three problems was the so-called “mind/body” problem–a problem that Wittgenstein’s words seemed to be working therapeutically upon like a sore knot in my semantic musculature. In time, however, I came to learn of many new problems… like the “body/body” problem, and the “zombie” problem, and of course the “I/me” problem… Wittgenstein was never refuted or surpassed for me, far from it! But his solutions began to fade from memory as unforeseen philosophical problems continued to multiply. Even if Wittgenstein did in some sense solve the “mind/body” problem for me, the new problems which emerged began to seem less like stiff muscles and more like the growth of new appendages or new organs of perception.

Curing Philosophy

Wittgenstein’s model philosopher would act like a physician, though instead of trying to cure physical ailments, he would attempt to relieve metaphysical tension. The philosopher is a doctor of the mind, more commonly known as a psychologist. His task is to keep the language from misunderstanding itself. This, in turn, prevents people from becoming insane.
Insanity is not a measure of a person’s deviancy from normal. Insanity is an imbalanced soul. Entire cultures can be insane. Normalcy is currently insanity.

Playing a language game wherein subjects are necessarily separate from objects, and causes from effects, leads to insanity. The world cannot be made sense of when it is broken into two domains, irreconcilable one with the other. Out from another body comes our body, kicking and screaming. Soon enough it is taught to speak and acquires a mind all its own. We may not be born alone, but after internalizing our own name, we surely die alone.

A lonely death was Wittgenstein’s worst nightmare. This sickness unto death, the sickness of philosophy, causes one to question their own being, which immediately throws the whole enterprise of thought backwards over one’s head up into the air. The symptoms of this condition include nausea and alienation, even suicidal feelings in some. The cause is confused thinking.

As the old story goes, there is me and there is you, and an impossible to leap gap between us. You have private sensations and ideas unreachable by me, and I hide the same from you. We cannot share our lives, nor can we share our deaths.

But is it true? is there a you separate from me, or a me from you? Speaking, even writing, is addressing an other. Language implies dialogue. The question, however, is whether there is such a thing as a thought before a word.

I am.

The ‘I am’ is God consciousness. God is the thought that gives rise to all other thoughts. The story of Genesis is the invention of time, the codification of language, the construction of culture and the meaning of Man. History is a thought in dialogue with itself: history is reading and writing, thinking and speaking, remembering and willing.

But where and for who does history really exist? In the mind of each individual? Hardly a trace of it could possibly exist there! History is a common agreement, a shared story we must all participate in telling. No single person could know history without telling it to all.

Our supposedly private thoughts have no meaning until they are pronounced. Until we communicate, not even we know what we mean.

Is it really necessary to draw such a sharp line between meaning and truth, between the mind and the world, between appearance and reality?

How could a reality ever appear? By definition, it seems out of our reach. As beings with minds, we perceive only appearances. The structure of reality itself remains hidden.

But wait. What could we possibly mean by “reality” in this sense? Why is it that we would even posit something that is impossible to know? Is it because it appears to exist? Well then reality is “only” an appearance!

Everything is exactly as it appears; the world is all that is the case.
How on earth did an animal gain a conscience? When did we start hearing voices in our head? When did we become mortal souls in need of divine salvation?

When the thought “I am” was uttered, all other things followed.

It took only 1600 years for Descartes to make explicit what had been implied all along: I think, therefore I am. I do not have to speak or live with others to exist–I can stand alone. The meaning of my mind is my own.

This, of course, is insane. The body cannot live on doubt or the measured knowledge it provides.

Wittgenstein sought a cure. It was to view all thought as public. Everyone already knows your secrets, because your secrets are the same as the people you talk to. What they don’t know, you don’t know.

(Telepathy becomes impossible. There are no comprehensible thoughts that could be silently transfered from my mind to yours. If there were comprehensible thoughts, speaking them would accomplish the same “trick.”)

This is all very difficult for the ego to accept, no doubt. It enjoys its suffering, because its short releases of pain are intensely pleasurable. To release completely, though, amounts to the ego’s death; so it’s no wonder it returns endlessly to suffering.

Being a thinking thing trapped in a body that is decaying daily is no mind’s idea of a good time!
We need the cure. We need to locate the drain, unscrew it, and squeeze all the me juice out until privacy and secrecy become, not embarrassing, but impossible.

Hofstadter, Wittgenstein, Varela: Loops, Language, Poesis

The purpose of this essay is to display how the Enlightenment’s arête became its harmartia. In other words, it is to show how Modernity’s greatest virtue became its tragic flaw. Its virtue was to separate the Big Three: the Good, the True, and the Beautiful. This differentiation lead to all the positive aspects of Modern existence (human rights, quality of life, value of personal expression, etc.) that pre-Modernity had not yet made explicit. However, this virtue became a tragic flaw as the Big Three not only moved apart to define their own turf, but also became totally fragmented and disassociated, unable to communicate with one another. The True was defended by objective scientific investigation. It represented a form of knowing that revealed the “It” world of matter in motion. The Beautiful was defended by subjective aesthetic interpretation. It represented a form of knowing that revealed the “I” world of imagination and artistic expression. The Good was defended by “the people,” who together formed the free, intersubjective communities that agreed to protect the inalienable rights of each individual. Its form of knowing represented the “We” world, but its full force has mostly been lost amidst the dust storm kicked up by the battle between the “I” and the “It.” The Good became an inarticulatable middle ground that was supposed to bridge the Beautiful and the True, but its substance seemed to dissolve as the latter two became more and more separated.

Since language is the medium through which I will attempt to communicate these ideas, it seems fitting that we begin with an explanation of what it means to speak, write, and think under such terms. What is language? Wittgenstein’s early project was to define language in the terms most familiar to the Western tradition, running through Augustine up until Russell. His aim was to show that all philosophy consisted in defining the logical form of sentences. In other words, a certain proposition was thought to be isomorphic to a certain event in the world. When this isomorphism lined up (i.e., when the sentence referred to a real state of affairs in the world) then the sentence was true. This project, of course, rests on the basic assumption that the world is independent of the proposition (and presumably the being who proposes it). This separation between the world and its description (and describer) is what lead the early Wittgenstein to see language as a mirroring of the world’s pre-given state [i.e., as a sharing of its logical form, or an accurate depiction (picturing) of it]. In this sense, a true thought is a thought that logically matches an event that occurs in the world. Philosophy’s job was to analyze these thoughts and sentences to make sure they were expressed in their true logical form. The driving force behind this project was, quite simply, to end all philosophy.

As far as the early Wittgenstein was concerned, the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus was the solution to every philosophical problem. To get the book published, however, Wittgenstein needed to include an introduction to his work courtesy of the more popular Russell. Russell seemed convinced that Wittgenstein was a genius. Wittgenstein himself, on the other hand, remained skeptical that Russell even understood the book. Nonetheless, the book was published and Wittgenstein left philosophy to pursue a career as an elementary school teacher. Years latter, he came into contact with the Vienna Circle, an influential group of thinkers that had built themselves up around what they took to be the central tenets of the Tractatus: a) we get knowledge only from sensory experience, and b) we can accurately understand that experience only in terms of logical analysis. These maxims are based on the Tractatus’ characterization of language as being composed of simple atomistic statements referring to empirical truths discovered in the world, such as “It is raining,” or “The ground is wet.” Such linguistic atoms can then be built into meaningful molecules of propositional thought, such as the statement: “It is raining outside, therefore the ground is wet.” The building and clarification of such statements is, for the Circle, the goal of all logically sound philosophical discourse. Their goal was to usher in a new age of thought centered around scientific positivism and linguistic analysis. Their biggest target was metaphysics, both theological and existential. For the Circle, any statement about the world that did not make reference to some sensory state given by that world is meaningless (i.e., it is a pseudo-statement). They saw the struggle between metaphysics and positivism as identical to the one between an out-dated, childish religion and a mature, levelheaded science. One ought to face up, the Circle would say, to modern human existence, an existence in which a statement’s meaning referred to its logical accuracy in comparison to the objective world, rather than to its value in relation to some silent and unseen transcendental realm unreachable with analysis. Wittgenstein, however, thought his work had been misunderstood once again.

The whole purpose of the Tractatus, he would try to explain to the Circle, was to show the limits of philosophy and logical analysis. It was not, as the Circle saw it, to make such logical positivism the be all and end all of humanity’s understanding of itself; quite the contrary, it was to show that logic, objectivism, and any breed of universalizing philosophy was necessarily silent on issues concerning genuine human life. In the final pages of the Tractatus, Wittgenstein discusses what his supposedly complete picture of language and its relationship to the world leaves out. He begins by asserting that “all propositions are of equal value” (6.4) In other words, every true statement about the world is just as true as any other true statement about the world. None of them are in any way more important or more valuable than any others. He does so to set the stage for the actual point of the whole book, which is to substantiate the ethical to a sphere beyond anything logical positivism could ever swallow up into its methods of analysis. The ethical is the intuitive sense an existing individual has concerning what is most important about life. Wittgenstein did not think being such an ethical being was optional, as even the members of the Circle made a value judgment by assuming their method of investigation was the most important among all other methods. One cannot live without making ethical judgments. It is for this reason that Wittgenstein thought “the sense of the world must lie outside the world” (6.41). If all propositions are of equal value, and yet “there is a value which is of value” (i.e., a value which is important), then “it must lie outside the world.” It does indeed follow from this that “there can be no ethical propositions” (6.42), which the Circle certainly agreed with. However, Wittgenstein did not mean to say that ethics was therefore meaningless. His claim was that ethics only existed outside the world of objects known to empirical/logical investigation. It was one of those areas of human existence that Wittgenstein chose to remain relatively silent about in the more philosophically oriented Tractatus because he felt it was transcendental and therefore propositionally inexpressible. For Wittgenstein, the question of ethics was always intermingled with the question of religion, as both are equally transcendent in his view. He saw the question of religion as being essentially about personal identity and the notion of an immortal soul. “The temporal immortality of the human soul, that is to say, its eternal survival after death, is not only in no way guaranteed, but this assumption in the first place will not do for us what we always tried to make it do. Is a riddle solved by the fact that I survive forever? Is this eternal life not as enigmatic as our present one? The solution of the riddle of life in space and time lies outside space and time.” (6.4312). In other words, because it seems that our current temporal existence is no more mysterious than any supposed eternal existence would be, we can only suppose that the solution to the problem of life comes from another dimension entirely. This removes the problem of life from the set of logical problems that natural science might attempt to solve. It makes a question of life that positivism cannot even begin to answer because it transcends the world that positivism can make propositional claims about.

“How the world is, is completely indifferent for what is higher. God does not reveal himself in the world” (6.432). What is “higher” is what is important, what has value, what senses the world from outside the world. The religious, for Wittgenstein, has nothing to do with how the world is, but that it is. “The contemplation of the world from the view of eternity is its contemplation as a limited whole. The feeling that the world is a limited whole is the mystical feeling” (6.45). “We feel that even if all possible scientific questions be answered, the problems of life have still not been touched at all. Of course there is then no question left, and just this is the answer” (6.52). Wittgenstein has already defined the only proper and true use of language as being the logical picturing of the world. He then showed how the problem of life, of its meaning and value, does not fall within the world that can be so pictured. The problem of life is transcendental because its value is not equal to the value of all other logically definable propositions, but is somehow higher. But because it transcends the world, one cannot speak about it and make any sense because all language can refer meaningfully only to facts within the world. Therefore: “The right method of philosophy would be this: To say nothing except what can be said, i.e. the propositions of natural science, i.e. something that has nothing to do with philosophy: and then always, when someone else wished to say something metaphysical, to demonstrate to him that he had given no meaning to certain signs in his propositions. This method would be unsatisfying to the other-he would not have the feeling that we were teaching him philosophy-but it would be the only strictly correct method” (6.53). The other “would not have the feeling that we were teaching him philosophy” because there is something strangely insincere about such a philosophical method. However, if philosophy is to leave behind its metaphysical past and come to terms with the empirical knowledge of science, it must let go of its otherworldly strivings and concentrate on logically mapping language to the facts of the world. This was Wittgenstein’s prescription for what he considered to be the disease of philosophy. He hoped it would also lead those who actually understood it to a solution to the problem of life, as “for an answer which cannot be expressed the question too cannot be expressed” (6.5). In other words, because science and philosophy are silent when it comes to the riddle of life, then there must not be any riddle to begin with. If there were, surely we would be able to answer it using their methods. “If a question can be put at all, then it can also be answered” (6.5). If we doubt that we understand the riddle of life, we do so only because we question our own existence. But no question can be posed that cannot be answered, as if the question itself is meaningful then the answer must be implied by its logical structure. That Wittgenstein would have preferred to remain silent about all of this we can infer from the final lines of the Tractatus: “My propositions are elucidatory in this way: he who understands me finally recognizes them as senseless, when he has climbed out through them, on them, over them. (He must so to speak throw away the ladder, after he has climbed up on it.) He must surmount these propositions; then he sees the world rightly” (6.54). He goes on to give what some might argue is the central thesis of the entire work: “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent” (7).

The Tractatus was motivated by the early Wittgenstein’s desire to lift the ethical, religious, and mystical spheres of life so far above the hands of science and positivist philosophy that none of their methods could ever, even in theory, touch them. He wanted to save the transcendental from those who might try to call it sheer nonsense by removing it from the world of objects that is supposed to make sense. In a way, he was attempting to beat the positivists at their own game by pointing out the meaningless nature of metaphysical statements better than even they could hope to do. However, he did so not to make the purpose of such statements insignificant, but to elevate them beyond the “lower” significance of language (where value comes only by virtue of mirroring a true state of affairs in the world) into the “higher” significance of life (where value is assigned by virtue of what is beautiful). In so doing, he separated language and life in an attempt to preserve the best of both. However, by giving up the possibility of making meaningful statements about life and demanding that we pass over it in silence, Wittgenstein may have done more harm than good. Truth (science, the “It” world) had the persuasive power of language on its side, and so it was much more intellectually convincing than the mere silence offered by the Beautiful (life, “I” world).

Wittgenstein realized his mistake in his later works, most notably the Philosophical Investigations. He totally revamped his theory of language in order to give life back its linguistic sense. Instead of seeing meaning as the correct representation of the world, Wittgenstein realized that language was the very fabric of life itself. It’s meaning did not rest on the empirically verifiable facts of the physical world, but on the use it was put to in the every day conversations of people. If philosophy attempted to take language out of this context in order to find some underlying essence (some logical structure), it would only force the meaning of the words themselves to dissolve into uncertainty and confusion. Meaning is use, to put it quite simply. Our ability to communicate depends as much on the silent context and background of our conversations as it does on the audible (or legible) words we exchange.

This new view of language makes it resemble what complex systems theorists call an emergent property. Our ability to speak, write, and think (in short, our ability to exist as a mind) seems to emerge from our simpler bodily skills into a domain all its own. To say that the mind is an emergent property is to say that it forms its own autopoietic system. In other words, the mind enacts its own world, and this mental world cannot be explained away by reference to lower autopoietic levels (such as the biological or physical levels). If we view the entire kosmos as a nested hierarchy, from matter, to body, to mind, we find that the physiosphere (matter) must make up the lowest rung on the ladder. That is to say, the physical universe composes the most fundamental, and therefore the simplest and most common, level on the hierarchy. Positivist empirical science progressed as quickly and triumphantly as it did precisely because its object of inquiry (the physical world) was the easiest to understand. Emerging out of this lowest level is the biosphere. To emerge means to transcend the prior level while still obeying its basic laws. So the biosphere does something more complex that the physiosphere could ever do on its own, but never does it contradict the laws of matter. Organisms begin to enact their own autopoietic domains, building on the laws of matter to create a higher level of complexity. In so doing, they swallow up the world of the physiosphere, so to speak, forever altering our understanding of what it means for the kosmos to exist as it does. Once life is taken into consideration, no purely reductionistic explanation will ever satisfy us. That organisms, made of nothing but atoms, are somehow “alive” proves that matter is not at all what the materialists would have us believe. And when we begin to consider the emergence of mind, we see that life, too, is not at all what we expected. With the mind we have an even more complex autopoietic system built atop both matter and body. It is this level of mind that gave rise to our linguistic ability, and we can see in the work of the early Wittgenstein that this higher ability was mixed up in a kind of level crossing with the lower, physical level. He believed that language (or the mind) can state (or think of) nothing but what it finds in the material world. This belief was based on the power of the empirical method of investigation, which had proved so valuable when applied to the world of matter. When applied to the mind, however, it begins to show its limits. Sensory empiricism does indeed reveal the hidden laws of the purely physical world, but when we try to explain our use of language based solely on sensory experience we end up turning it into a kind of calculus or measuring device. To say that the only correct use of language is to logically map the facts of the world is to remove from language the notion of meaning that most people find absolutely vital. Language is not merely a tool designed to describe the physical world, though it can be put to this use. Rather, it is the “house of being” as Heidegger put it. It forms the matrix of our cultural worldspace. It brings us into a domain far above the physical world where ideas, values, and meanings take on a life of their own.

In his seminal work, Gödel, Escher, Bach, computer scientist Douglas Hofstadter began to realize that the mind was something very strange indeed. He saw that traditional physical reductionism did not do justice to the bizarre nature of mental abilities, so he began to study how a purely rule-based physical system could give rise to higher-level complexity. “My belief is that the explanations of ‘emergent’ phenomena in our brains- for instance, ideas, hopes, images, analogies, and finally consciousness and free will-are based on a kind of strange loop, an interaction between levels in which the top level reaches back down towards the bottom level and influences it, while at the same time being itself determined by the bottom level. In other words, a self reinforcing ‘resonance’ between different levels” (p. 709). He acknowledges that the mind, to some extent, has operational power over the body and the world. This is a key advancement over prior positivist explanations that negate the mind all together. But he goes on: “This should not be taken as an antireductionist position. It just implies that a reductionistic explanation of mind, in order to be comprehensible, must bring in ‘soft’ concepts such as levels, mappings, and meanings. In principle, I have no doubt that a totally reductionistic but incomprehensible explanation of the brain exists; the problem is how to translate it into a language we ourselves can fathom. Surely we don’t want a description in terms of positions and momenta of particles; we want a description which relates neural activity to ‘signals’ (intermediate-level phenomena)-and which relates signals, in turn, to ‘symbols,’ including the presumed to exist ‘self-symbol'” (p. 709). We see then that, while Hofstadter certainly acknowledges the seeming incommensurability between matter and mind, he is unwilling to suppose that mind in fact transcends and includes matter. Instead, he wants to view the mind as a temporary “strange loop” that emerges from the physical universe much like a whirlpool emerges from a fast moving stream.

His view of emergence is unlike the one I have articulated above, in that it does not suppose that higher levels of emergence swallow up lower levels, making any reductionistic explanation not only incomprehensible, but also impossible. Once mind has emerged, we as the enactors of this new ability can no longer remove ourselves from it in order to explain it by reference to a prior level. The mental realm becomes irreducible as soon as it emerges. Meaning and value become real aspects of the kosmos that cannot be explained away by reference to physical processes, no matter how “strange” and “loopy” those processes are made to seem. Hofstadter believes that a “translation from low-level physical hardware to high-level psychological software” (p. 709) is possible. In other words, he thinks that mental processes can be reduced without remainder (translated) into physical processes. This “level crossing (between matter and mind) is what creates our nearly unanalyzable feelings of self” (p. 709), as our current inability to translate between the two levels accurately has given rise to an inner mental confusion that leads us to believe we have an individual identity. Hofstadter is certainly a naturalist, and as such he is committed to certain dogmatic creeds inherent to the practice of physicalist science. “The subjective feeling of redness comes from the vortex of self-perception in the brain; the objective wavelength is how you see things when you step back, outside the system. Though no one of us will ever be able to step back far enough to see the “big picture,” we shouldn’t forget that it exists. We should remember that physical law is what makes it all happen-way, way down in the neural nooks and crannies which are too remote for us to reach with our high-level introspective probes” (p. 710).

I can only assume that by “physical law” Hofstadter means the causal relations between mass and energy. These relationships are fundamental for him, not only in the sense that they form the foundation of the visible structure of the kosmos, but in the sense that they are all that is really real, all that actually exists. The biosphere and the noosphere are merely temporary disturbances in the dead shuffling around of unintelligent stardust. As wonderful as Hofstadter may feel such disturbances are, and as intricate and genius his supposed explanation of their existence may be, he still, it seems to me, damns them with faint praise. To say that subjective states of consciousness, such as the feeling of redness, are produced by a kind of dizzying confusion of self-perception in the brain is to uphold a kind of naïve realism that no empirical evidence supports. How are we to know what color “really” is? Why do we even ask the question? It seems that as soon as we doubt the self-explanatory nature of the phenomenon itself, we transform our understanding of the world into a kind of disinterested knowledge for the sake of knowledge. Color really is exactly what it seems to be; the feeling of redness needs no further explanation. When a naturalist tries to look deeper into reality to find what color really is, he jumps to the conclusion that some pre-existing material world surrounds us that “we,” to the extent that we can even be said to exist apart from it, must conform to and obey. But again, there is no strictly empirical proof that such a self-abiding objective world even exists. As subjective beings, we are forever limited to the perception of color as it appears. We can certainly invent elaborate intellectual structures to use as instruments to poke and prod the natural world in hopes that it will reveal its underlying secrets, but such structures cannot then be seen as more real than the phenomenon itself. The structures were invented after the fact of the experience itself. Nowhere in the immediate sensation of color is such a structure found. Rather, the structure is a construction of an overly doubtful mind.

The source of this doubting mind runs deep into the tradition of Western philosophy, finding its most notable articulation in the work of Descartes. Being, as he was, divided between both a religious and scientific outlook, unable to give up one or the other, Descartes was forced to separate the two into their own dimensions of existence. The mental world of imagination and ideas, of identity and meaning, he gave to God and the soul. The physical world of matter and energy, of purely mechanical process, he gave to science and technology. Subject and object, mind and matter, were for centuries afterward seen as two incompatible substances that could never be brought back together. Much like the early Wittgenstein, Descartes wanted to preserve the merits of religion along with the merits of science by separating the domains wherein each was valid. This predictably (as we have already seen with Wittgenstein) lead to an even bigger confusion. Highly religious idealists like Bishop Berkeley took the view that mind was all there was, as we have no way to prove that the physical world is anything but our own subjective projection. More worldly empiricists like Locke refuted Berkeley’s idealism by dividing the world of experience into primary and secondary qualities. The primary qualities of mass, motion, shape, and number were deemed part of the real, objective physical universe. Secondary qualities like color, temperature, odor, and taste were deemed part of an illusory, subjective domain. In this spirit, one philosopher, Samuel Johnson, is said to have proven Berkeley’s subjectivism wrong by kicking a large boulder and saying, “I refute it thus!” Hofstadter belongs to this empiricist tradition, which was the clearest benefactor of the Enlightenment’s separation of the Big Three due to the easily recognizable and commonsense strength of such arguments. That the true reality was an objective and material universe made of measurable quantities without any subjective qualities seemed the most reasonable of assumptions. After all, no one ever saw anything like an idea with his or her eyes; all that was immediately visible was the physical world. This scientific paradigm is what lead the Big Three to become so distanced from one another. The Beautiful, the world of the individual imagination where one appreciated the immediate aesthetic wonderment offered by nature and artistic creation, and where one was awed by the mystery of existence itself, became a sort of subjective, solipsistic cage with no practical value. This was so because the True, the world of objective and empirical scientific fact, saw no reason why such an inner life should even exist. The universe, from this positivist perspective, was totally explainable by reference to the external interactions of material surfaces. This lead to the philosophy of logical analysis, to behaviorism, to sociobiology-in short: to reductionism in all its many forms. Even the new sciences of complexity do not escape the reductive attitude. As we see in Hofstadter, the universe is still thought of as a giant machine that, although capable of some pretty exciting quasi-emergent dance maneuvers that give rise to higher levels of complexity, is nevertheless running irreversibly downward toward disorder and chaos with no greater purpose or goal in mind. This is Hofstadter’s “big picture.” The fact that human beings exist with feelings and intelligence is a kind of cosmic fluke, even a joke. Our existence is highly unstable, as the universe we call home is one of cruel, causal necessity where any sense of higher meaning or purpose is but the sentimental dream of an insignificant, frightened, and confused little child left for dead upon a chunk of rock floating through empty, meaningless space.

Let me sum up in an attempt to be clearer. Hofstadter “defines the mind as the emergence of a neural feedback loop within the brain. It is this peculiar loop that allows a stream of cognitive symbols to twist back on itself, so creating the self-awareness and self-integration that constitute an ‘I'” (Booklist review of I Am a Strange Loop). But this “I” is not the “I” we feel ourselves to be, the identity that we believe gives us free will and the ability to choose to do the Good, etc. “I don’t see any room in this complex world for my will to be ‘free'” (p. 340). Hofstadter’s understanding of emergence in terms of “feedback loops” would not have sat well with Francisco Varela, whose notion of autopoiesis [introduced in collusion with Maturana in 1979 (which incidentally was the same year GEB was published) in Principles of Biological Autonomy] was an attempt to do away with the kind of framework that required inputs and outputs (such as the notion of feedback loops). “One of the central intentions of the study of autopoiesis and organizational closure is to describe a system with no inputs or outputs (which embody their control or constraints) and to emphasize their autonomous constitutions” (p. 56). If we view consciousness as a feedback loop, it becomes somewhat of a one-way street, not in the sense that higher level top-down influences cannot affect lower level properties of a system, but in the sense that a feedback loop “requires and implies an external source of reference, which is completely absent in organizational closure” (p. 56). To further clarify the concept of organizational closure: “A system is organizationally closed if all its possible states of activity must always lead to or generate further activity within itself” (Self Producing Systems by John Mingers, p. 31). This implies, in the case of the nervous system, that all neural activity effects, and is effected by, other neurons. “Even the motor and sensor neurons are no exception; they do not ‘open’ the nervous system to its environment. The motor neurons trigger sensor neurons through the activity they initiate, and sensor neurons are thereby internally stimulated.” Because the mind (or consciousness) is its own autopoietic system with its own enacted domain and organizational closure, to refer to it as a collection of “neural feedback loops” is to miss the essential meaning of the emergence of mind. To further explain the concept of autopoiesis, we can compare it to its opposite: allopoiesis. An allopoieic system is much like a car factory. It uses raw materials (components) to generate a car (an organized structure) that is something other than itself. An autopoietic system, on the other hand, uses raw materials to generate its own organizational structure. The various components of, say, a eukaryotic cell (mitochondria, cell membrane, ribosomes, nucleus, etc.) work to keep the cell alive by constantly re-creating themselves. So an autopoietic system is an open system with operational closure. That means while it uses outside material to build its structure (in the case of a cell, the various molecules and nutrients that keep it alive), making it an open system, it then uses those materials to enact a closed organizational space within a membrane where cell components can reproduce themselves. This notion of openness, however, when applied to the mind and nervous system, should not be mistaken for allowing some kind of sensory input into the system. To have a distinguishable sensory input, mental states would have to arise in a linear fashion: first a sensation, followed by a perception, finalized with a motor response. In the case of an actual mind, however, neural activity is organizationally closed, which means that it is not a blank slate upon which sensory data might write itself. The nature of any sensory data would be lost due to the nervous system’s pre-existing state always being a constant codependency between sense and response (sensory data and motor coordination). In other words, we could just as well reverse the sequence and say that perception is brought about by a kinesthetic change in the body, which then leads to the sensation of an environment. This reversal of the linear sequence does nothing but show how untenable the original sensation-perception-motor response sequence was. If a linear system with inputs and outputs be supposed, then both of these alternatives are equally possible and yet contradictory. “It may appear that the structure of an autopoietic system changes in relation to, or in response to, changes in its environment. But for an observer to see such changes in the environment as an input and the structural change as an output is to mischaracterize the system as allopoietic, since the changes will, actually, have been devoted to maintaining autopoiesis” (p. 33). In other words, while it may appear to an external observer that a certain system, say the brain, reacts to certain sensory inputs by changing its structure (an output), the reality is that the system itself, if autopoietic, has only been triggered to accommodate the environmental conditions. It is triggered and not controlled by the environment because the system’s response depends on its own organization, which, again, is closed and self-determining. In this way, no sensory input could ever be linked up with a motor output in a discrete and unambiguous way. The brain is not an information-processor where such linear, causal connections could be made.

Whenever a new idea as exciting as emergence pops onto the scene, we should expect that it will be stretched to the point of abuse and misunderstanding by the varying theorists and diverse disciplines that attempt to squeeze it into their field of inquiry in order to explain some heretofore incomprehensible phenomenon. Naturalists such as Hofstadter have committed themselves to the notion of a pre-existing world, “an external source of reference,” whereas enactivists like Varela have tossed aside such assumptions in favor of the more intuitively pleasing framework that integrates the “I” world and the “It” world without doing epistemological violence to either perspective by reducing it to the other. Varela’s universe is one of groundlessness, as his Buddhist background has given him access to an epistemological tradition that need not rest upon a stable, external world of material objects. Such a universe makes most Westerners uneasy, especially those of a naturalist bent, as if there is no ground to reality it is essentially a series of veils behind veils behind veils amounting in the end to pure (yet radiant) emptiness. There is, in such a universe, no final truth, no ultimate ground, and the scientist is therefore forced to give up his quest to discover and analyze it so as to announce to the world that all questions have been answered and all mysteries laid bare.

Varela sees the “I” differently than Hofstadter. “In my epistemology, the virtual self is evident because it provides a surface for interaction, but it’s not evident the moment you try to locate it. It’s completely delocalized” (The Third Culture by John Brockman, Ch. 12). This seems nearly identical to Hofstadter’s description, but the essential difference is that Varela’s “I,” or self, provides a “surface for interaction.” This surface is the hypothetical line drawn around the mind’s organizational closure. For Varela, the virtual self “produces its own boundary. It doesn’t require an external agent to notice it, to say ‘I’m here.’ It bootstraps itself out of a soup of chemistry and physics” (Ch. 12). This, again, sounds very similar to Hofstadter, but the essential difference is that Varela does not make use of the physical world as an external support structure for such bootstrapping. For him, emergent phenomena display a “screwy logic where the snake bites its own tale and you can’t discern a beginning.” This is unlike Hofstadter’s formulation where the snake is forced to balance itself upon the material world, supported as it were by purely physical law. It wobbles, unstably so at first, into the complex dance that supports its higher level functioning, though all along the dance floor remains the foundation of the whole operation. Again, for Varela “the nervous system is not an information-processing system, because, by definition, information-processing systems need clear inputs. The nervous system has internal, or operational, closure. We must deconstruct the notion that the brain is processing information and making a representation of the world.” In other words, we must see the mind as defining a new domain of existence that supercedes the domain of physics (and biology, for that matter). The mind transcends and includes the physical world, and so if we were going to attempt to describe how such an emergence was possible, it would be better to start from mind and work our way down. This is the exact opposite of Hofstadter’s approach. He sees the world as an object to be known, whereas for Varela “knowledge coevolves with the knower and [has nothing to do with] an outside, objective representation.” He goes on to attack the notion that physics is somehow fundamental to reality: “A physicist will say that we’re made of atoms. Such statements, while true, are irrelevant. There is a reality of life and death, which affects us directly and is on a different level from the (physicist’s) abstractions. We have to abandon the enormous deadweight of the materialism of the Western tradition and turn to a more planetary way of thinking.”

So we see, then, that with the help of Wittgenstein, language was raised into a new, emergent domain with organizational closure. Its use was its meaning, and its meaning composed the very being of the lifeworld. Reducing or translating its symbols into atomic facts that mirror the state of the physical world could not explain the mental worldspace enacted therein. Hofstadter was not totally ignorant of this fact, as he understood the necessity of making reference to the softer domains of psychological phenomena in order to explain how consciousness works in a believable, understandable, and humanly acceptable way. However, because he could not give up his prized belief in the primacy of the physical universe, his descriptions remained reductive by not offering the kind of organizational closure that Varela saw as crucial for understanding the higher and more complex qualities that emerge in the biological and mental spheres of reality. To understand what it is for life to have a meaning, we cannot look down the nested hierarchy of being to mass and energy for an explanation. The “I” world of mental phenomena is not merely a feedback loop propped up by an accidental conglomeration of dumb particles; it is an emergent domain whose existence was enfolded in and implied by the physical universe from the very beginning. Matter is not the blind and unintelligent substance positivist science would have us believe. Rather, it is the very seed of life and consciousness itself. Matter, if you will excuse the clumsiness of the metaphor, wanted to come alive; and further, life wanted to become conscious. The kosmos is striving toward something and has an undeniable telos built into its very structure and substance. Indeed, it is even willing to repeatedly transcend itself, a rebirth of sorts, into ever higher and more complex emergent domains.

To return once again to the Big Three, we can see that an integration of the “I” world of consciousness and the “It” world of mass and energy is necessary before any legitimate progress in the “We” world of ethics is possible. If no bridge between the “I” and “It” is built, the “We” becomes seemingly non-existent. The “I” world exists only to myself; the “It” world exists to no one in particular, but rather is the environment within which I and all other I’s are forced to conform and adapt. The only ethics possible in this situation, if we are to call them ethics at all, would arise out of my own self-interest. Sociobiology is the result of the “We” world being so confused and up for grabs. Science had to lay claim to the territory, as it is an inherently expansive epistemology that seeks to explain all possible domains of existence regardless of their sanctity. Ethics, which exists genuinely only at the level of mind (which positivist science rejects altogether), was thereby reduced to the blind biological instincts of self-preservation. This reduction is a totally disaster, not only philosophically, but practically, as it opens up the possibility that the Good includes genocide and eugenics. Such ideas are intuitively evil to almost anyone who contemplates them; however, a purely positivist science cannot admit of such intuitions. They are too subjective to be taken seriously. This is a moral catastrophe.

Wittgenstein and Language

What is language? Wittgenstein’s early project was to define language in the terms most familiar to the Western tradition, running through Augustine up until Russell. His aim was to show that all philosophy consisted in defining the logical form of sentences. A certain proposition was thought to be isomorphic to a certain event in the world. When this isomorphism lined up (i.e., when the sentence referred to a real state of affairs in the world) then the sentence was true. This project, of course, rests on the basic assumption that the world is independent of the proposition (and presumably the being who proposes it). This separation between the world and its description (and describer) is what lead the early Wittgenstein to see language as a mirroring of the world’s pre-given state [i.e., as a sharing of its logical form, or an accurate depiction (picturing) of it]. In this sense, a true thought is a thought that logically matches an event that occurs in the world. Philosophy’s job was to analyze these thoughts and sentences to make sure they were expressed in their true logical form. The driving force behind this project was, quite simply, to end all philosophy.

As far as the early Wittgenstein was concerned, the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus was the solution to every philosophical problem. To get the book published, however, Wittgenstein needed to include an introduction to his work courtesy of the more popular Russell. Russell seemed convinced that Wittgenstein was a genius. Wittgenstein himself, on the other hand, remained skeptical that Russell even understood the book. Nonetheless, the book was published and Wittgenstein left philosophy to pursue a career as an elementary school teacher. Years latter, he came into contact with the Vienna Circle, an influential group of thinkers that had built themselves up around what they took to be the central tenets of the Tractatus: a) we get knowledge only from sensory experience, and b) we can accurately understand that experience only in terms of logical analysis. These maxims are based on the Tractatus’ characterization of language as being composed of simple atomistic statements referring to empirical truths discovered in the world, such as “It is raining,” or “The ground is wet.” Such linguistic atoms can then be built into meaningful molecules of propositional thought, such as the statement: “It is raining outside, therefore the ground is wet.” The building and clarification of such statements is, for the Circle, the goal of all logically sound philosophical discourse. Their goal was to usher in a new age of thought centered around scientific positivism and linguistic analysis. Their biggest target was metaphysics, both theological and existential. For the Circle, any statement about the world that did not make reference to some sensory state given by that world is meaningless (i.e., it is a pseudo-statement). They saw the struggle between metaphysics and positivism as identical to the one between an out-dated, childish religion and a mature, levelheaded science. One ought to face up, the Circle would say, to modern human existence, an existence in which a statement’s meaning referred to its logical accuracy in comparison to the objective world, rather than to its value in relation to some silent and unseen transcendental realm unreachable with analysis. Wittgenstein, however, thought his work had been misunderstood once again.

The whole purpose of the Tractatus, he would try to explain to the Circle, was to show the limits of philosophy and logical analysis. It was not, as the Circle saw it, to make such logical positivism the be all and end all of humanity’s understanding of itself; quite the contrary, it was to show that logic, objectivism, and any breed of universalizing philosophy was necessarily silent on issues concerning genuine human life. In the final pages of the Tractatus, Wittgenstein discusses what his supposedly complete picture of language and its relationship to the world leaves out. He begins by asserting that “all propositions are of equal value” (6.4) In other words, every true statement about the world is just as true as any other true statement about the world. None of them are in any way more important or more valuable than any others. He does so to set the stage for the actual point of the whole book, which is to substantiate the ethical to a sphere beyond anything logical positivism could ever swallow up into its methods of analysis. The ethical is the intuitive sense an existing individual has concerning what is most important about life. Wittgenstein did not think being such an ethical being was optional, as even the members of the Circle made a value judgment by assuming their method of investigation was the most important among all other methods. One cannot live without making ethical judgments. It is for this reason that Wittgenstein thought “the sense of the world must lie outside the world” (6.41). If all propositions are of equal value, and yet “there is a value which is of value” (i.e., a value which is important), then “it must lie outside the world.” It does indeed follow from this that “there can be no ethical propositions” (6.42), which the Circle certainly agreed with. However, Wittgenstein did not mean to say that ethics was therefore meaningless. His claim was that ethics only existed outside the world of objects known to empirical/logical investigation. It was one of those areas of human existence that Wittgenstein chose to remain relatively silent about in the more philosophically oriented Tractatus because he felt it was transcendent and therefore propositionally inexpressible. For Wittgenstein, the question of ethics was always intermingled with the question of religion, as both are equally transcendent in his view. He saw the question of religion as being essentially about personal identity and the notion of an immortal soul. “The temporal immortality of the human soul, that is to say, its eternal survival after death, is not only in no way guaranteed, but this assumption in the first place will not do for us what we always tried to make it do. Is a riddle solved by the fact that I survive forever? Is this eternal life not as enigmatic as our present one? The solution of the riddle of life in space and time lies outside space and time.” (6.4312). In other words, because it seems that our current temporal existence is no less mysterious than any supposed eternal existence would be, we can only suppose that the solution to the problem of life comes from another dimension entirely. This removes the problem of life from the set of logical problems that natural science might attempt to solve. It makes a question of life that positivism cannot even begin to answer because it transcends the world that positivism can make propositional claims about.

“How the world is, is completely indifferent for what is higher. God does not reveal himself in the world” (6.432). What is “higher” is what is important, what has value, what senses the world from outside the world. The religious, for Wittgenstein, has nothing to do with how the world is, but that it is. “The contemplation of the world from the view of eternity is its contemplation as a limited whole. The feeling that the world is a limited whole is the mystical feeling” (6.45). “We feel that even if all possible scientific questions be answered, the problems of life have still not been touched at all. Of course there is then no question left, and just this is the answer” (6.52). Wittgenstein has already defined the only proper and true use of language as being the logical picturing of the world. He then showed how the problem of life, of its meaning and value, does not fall within the world that can be so pictured. The problem of life is transcendent because its value is not equal to the value of all other logically definable propositions, but is somehow higher. But because it transcends the world, one cannot speak about it and make any sense because all language can refer meaningfully only to facts within the world. Therefore: “The right method of philosophy would be this: To say nothing except what can be said, i.e. the propositions of natural science, i.e. something that has nothing to do with philosophy: and then always, when someone else wished to say something metaphysical, to demonstrate to him that he had given no meaning to certain signs in his propositions. This method would be unsatisfying to the other-he would not have the feeling that we were teaching him philosophy-but it would be the only strictly correct method” (6.53). The other “would not have the feeling that we were teaching him philosophy” because there is an insincerity, a sophistry, about such a philosophical method. However, if philosophy is to leave behind its metaphysical past and come to terms with the empirical knowledge of science, it must let go of its otherworldly strivings and concentrate on logically mapping language to the facts of the world. This was Wittgenstein’s prescription for what he considered to be the disease of philosophy. He hoped it would also lead those who actually understood it to a solution to the problem of life, as “for an answer which cannot be expressed the question too cannot be expressed” (6.5). In other words, because science and philosophy are silent when it comes to the riddle of life, then there must not be any riddle to begin with. If there were, surely we would be able to answer it using their methods. “If a question can be put at all, then it can also be answered” (6.5). If we doubt that we understand the riddle of life, we do so only because we question our own existence. But no question can be posed that cannot be answered, as if the question itself is meaningful then the answer must be implied by its logical structure. That Wittgenstein would have preferred to remain silent about all of this we can infer from the final lines of the Tractatus: “My propositions are elucidatory in this way: he who understands me finally recognizes them as senseless, when he has climbed out through them, on them, over them. (He must so to speak throw away the ladder, after he has climbed up on it.) He must surmount these propositions; then he sees the world rightly” (6.54). He goes on to give what some might argue is the central thesis of the entire work: “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent” (7).

The Tractatus was motivated by the early Wittgenstein’s desire to lift the ethical, religious, and mystical spheres of life so far above the hands of science and positivist philosophy that none of their methods could ever, even in theory, touch them. He wanted to save the transcendent from those who might try to call it sheer nonsense by removing it from the world of objects that is supposed to make sense. In a way, he was attempting to beat the positivists at their own game by pointing out the meaningless nature of metaphysical statements better than even they could hope to do. However, he did so not to make the purpose of such statements insignificant, but to elevate them beyond the “lower” significance of language (where value comes only by virtue of mirroring a true state of affairs in the world) into the “higher” significance of life (where value is assigned by virtue of what is beautiful). In so doing, he separated language and life in an attempt to preserve the best of both. However, by giving up the possibility of making meaningful statements about life and demanding that we pass over it in silence, Wittgenstein may have done more harm than good. Truth (science, the “It” world) had the persuasive power of language on its side, and so it was much more intellectually convincing than the mere silence offered by the Beautiful (life, “I” world).

Wittgenstein realized his mistake in his later works, most notably Philosophical Investigations. He totally revamped his theory of language in order to give life back its linguistic sense. Instead of seeing meaning as the correct representation of the world, Wittgenstein realized that language was the very fabric of life itself. It’s meaning did not rest on the empirically verifiable facts of the physical world, but on the use it was put to in the every day conversations of people. If philosophy attempted to take language out of this context in order to find the underlying essence or logical structure of a phenomenon, it would only force the meaning of the words themselves to dissolve into uncertainty and confusion. Meaning emerges in the context of use, rather than logico-empirical designation. Our ability to communicate depends on the silent context of grammatical normativity, not the correspondence of our words to an independent world.

This new view of language makes it resemble what complex systems theorists call an emergent property. Our ability to speak, write, and think (in short, our ability to exist as a mind) seems to emerge from our simpler bodily skills into a domain all its own. To say that the mind is an emergent property is to say that it forms its own autopoietic totality. In other words, the mind enacts a world, and this mental world cannot be explained away by reference to lower autopoietic levels (such as the biological or physical levels). If we view the entire kosmos as a nested hierarchy, from matter, to body, to mind, we find that the physiosphere (matter) must make up the lowest rung on the ladder. That is to say, the physical universe composes the most fundamental, and therefore the simplest and most common, level on the hierarchy. Positivist empirical science progressed as quickly and triumphantly as it did precisely because its object of inquiry (the physical world) was the easiest to understand. Emerging out of this lowest level is the biosphere. To emerge means to transcend the prior level while still obeying its basic laws. So the biosphere does something more complex that the physiosphere could ever do on its own, but never does it contradict the laws of matter. Organisms begin to enact their own autopoietic domains, building on the laws of matter to create a higher level of complexity. In so doing, they swallow up the world of the physiosphere, so to speak, forever altering our understanding of what it means for the kosmos to exist as it does. Once life is taken into consideration, no purely reductionistic explanation will ever satisfy us. That organisms, made of nothing but atoms, are somehow “alive” proves that matter is not at all what the materialists would have us believe. And when we begin to consider the emergence of mind, we see that life, too, is not at all what we expected. With the mind we have an even more complex autopoietic system built atop both matter and body. It is this level of mind that gave rise to our linguistic ability, and we can see in the work of the early Wittgenstein that this higher ability was mixed up in a kind of level crossing with the lower, physical level. He believed that language (or the mind) can state (or think of) nothing but what it finds in the material world. This belief was based on the power of the empirical method of investigation, which had proved so valuable when applied to the world of matter. When applied to the mind, however, it begins to show its limits. Sensory empiricism does indeed reveal the hidden laws of the physical world, but when we try to explain our use of language based solely on sensory experience we end up turning it into a kind of calculus or measuring device. To say that the only correct use of language is to logically map the facts of the external world is to revoke the very sense from language, destroying the significance that is vital for a full, ethical life. Language is not merely a tool designed to describe the physical world, though it can be put to this use. Rather, it is the “house of being” as Heidegger put it. It forms the matrix of our cultural worldspace. It brings us into a domain far above the physical world where ideas, values, and meanings take on a life of their own.

The End of the Word (preliminary remarks)

To engage in philosophy is to 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…

The Limits of Language

The Limits of Language

It seems ironic, at least in light of the premise of this paper, that the thoughts of a man such as Socrates could have given birth to the last twenty-four hundred years of Western philosophical discourse. Was it not he who said “I know nothing except the fact of my ignorance”? Was it not also he who wandered the streets of Athens constantly reminding his fellow countrymen that they did not know exactly what they meant by the words they were using? And was it not he who suggested that our merely human means of expression is an insufficient tool for the task we have employed it with, namely the pursuit of Truth? Maybe it isn’t ironic at all, for what else could humanity, after having conquered nature to the extent that leisure time became the norm rather than the exception, busy its rational intelligence with but the insoluble game of philosophy? That philosophy is a game that cannot be won, and that is therefore necessarily unconcerned with Truth, is the central premise of this paper. This premise will be elucidated in a detailed look at the medium of language and the impossibility of its describing the fundamental nature of reality itself.

To say that the game of philosophy cannot provide Truth is to say that its mode of operation is incongruent with the apprehension of the ultimate. This is so simply because all philosophy must be done using language, and no thoughts can be written down (or spoken) without unconscious metaphysical assumptions about reality built into them. As one philosopher put it (Alan Watts), “Language based on the sentence composed of subject, verb, and predicate contains the hidden belief system that events are started by nouns—by things.” If we look unassumingly at the natural world, its interconnected nature is hard to miss. Nowhere in nature do we find the separate categories of the sentence; all in nature goes together. Our unconscious assumptions contaminate pure reality, making it impossible for the philosopher to see past the self-invented syntax of his mind. Only poets retain the ability to feel with their language, creating imagery that displays a truth all at once before the mind’s eye. In contrast, for a philosophical treatise to be taken seriously, it must adhere to the strict rules of logic and exhibit a rational structure. Its truths must therefore become linear and flat, losing the extra dimensions present in more musical, directly apprehended presentations. When such treatises concern the nature of reality, and therefore, of Truth, how is it that they deduce that reality itself is rational? On what is such an assertion based? We must save this question for later, saying only that it originates from a misunderstanding of the nature of Truth. For now we will maintain that it is impossible to make such an assertion, as reality itself is neither rational nor irrational, but arational. That is, reality itself is unconcerned with the categories of the human mind, being neither ordered nor chaotic, but both at the same time.

A lot has been asserted thus far, and in order that it is properly understood and defended, we must now begin a bit of unpacking. Examples will be drawn from quantum physics, the philosophy of Ludwig Wittgenstein, Plato and the Pythagorean school of Ancient Greece, as well as various other insights from mystical traditions and persons.

To begin, we must further define Truth. A range of definitions are possible, but for our purposes, Truth shall be synonymous with reality as it actually is. Reality as it actually is, in this case, means reality before words and concepts break it up into more understandable bits and pieces. Truth then, is not something that can be communicated or described in its entirety in any way. Descriptions that point the way toward Truth may be called knowledge, but ultimately, they are relative. In other words, knowledge is always provisional: its validity is dependent upon certain preconditions remaining constant. Its conditional nature is exemplified by the progress of science, as new paradigms replace the old and our knowledge adapts to fresh observations.

The fresh observations made by physicists in the past century of the smallest bits of matter yet discovered are still struggling to find their proper context in a coherent universal theory of the physical world. In fact, to call the observed phenomena “the smallest bits” of matter may be misleading, as it would be just as correct to refer to them as waves, or patterns of probability spread throughout space and time. But the true physical make-up of the world is not our problem at the moment. Our problem, and the problem of most of the greatest physicists of the past hundred years, concerns the impossibility of ever knowing the true physical make-up of the world. The so-called “physical” nature of the world is not a verifiable aspect of reality. Physicality is merely one of the silently agreed upon assumptions made about the structure of reality that allows us to communicate meaningfully about it. Meaning, in this sense, is nothing more than correspondence. Meaning allows one aspect of the world to correspond to another using various types of representation. Nouns are used to represent especially pronounced or rigid aspects of our environment, while verbs are used to represent the more fluid and rhythmic aspects. But at their constituent level, “All the words or concepts we use to describe ordinary physical objects, such as position, velocity, color, size, and so on, become indefinite and problematic,” as Physicist Werner Heisenberg has said. Heisenberg wasn’t alone in his skepticism of language’s ability to reflect reality, as Erwin Schrödinger, Albert Einstein, Louis de Broglie, Sir James Jeans, Max Planck, Wolfgang Pauli, and Sir Arthur Eddington all agreed. They all believed that to think about the question of quantum physics as if it hinged on the indeterminate nature of the “wavicles” that composed the physical world was to misunderstand the situation entirely. The actual problem was that the physical world, with its supposed separate events and individual objects, was nothing more than a way of speaking. Author Eddington put it wonderfully: “We have found that where science has progressed the farthest, the mind has but regained from nature that which the mind has put into nature. We have found a strange footprint on the shores of the unknown. We have devised profound theories, one after another, to account for its origin. At last, we have succeeded in reconstructing the creature that made the footprint. And Lo! it is our own.” This suggests that human descriptions of the world, down even to the most detailed and abstract of mathematical equations, are not aspects of the world itself, but are superimposed upon it by the linguistically trained mind.

The problem is essentially that all scientific knowledge, having to be syntactically arranged in order to be communicated, necessarily negates the observer. In other words, as Schrödinger explains, “We do not belong to this material world that science constructs for us. We are not in it; we are outside. We are only spectators.” Our direct experience of the world, however, is a constant reminder that we are not passive observers, but active participants. We are in the world, inseparable from it. In this context, it becomes apparent why a being who lives in (and who, in fact, is) reality, but nonetheless wishes to, at the same time, objectively describe that reality, is in for quite a surprise. Were one to succeed at such a task, they would need to devise means no less astonishing than those required to lift oneself up by one’s own bootstraps.

Our language ignores this issue, though, by imposing an a priori separation between observer and observed, or between subject and object. In other words, language becomes useful only when one agrees to assume that each observer has an independent center of consciousness apart from all others, i.e. an individual mind. But this arbitrary distinction between opposite poles of the same essence may actually create more problems than it seems to solve; namely, the problem of the existence of minds other than my own.
The problem of other minds is such that any proposed solution remains frustratingly unverifiable. Behaviorists claim what you directly observe is all that there is, thereby negating the necessity of paying the mind any attention at all. This seems quite silly, though, as such an assertion seems almost contradictory being that the theory itself requires a mind for its manifestation and subsequent application. To “prove,” though, that other minds exist would require that a solution be spelt out here on the page, that some logically coherent intellectual argument be voiced so that you might read it and somehow understand that it were correct. But in the spirit of Wittgenstein, we could say that such an answer was impossible, as “proving” that other minds exist cannot be accomplished using any conventional linguistic means. Rather, the question itself ought to be unasked before anything might be settled. It may be impossible to know that other minds exist, but surely it is quite possible to feel that they do. As Wittgenstein put it, “[See the] consciousness in another’s face. Look into someone else’s face, and see the consciousness in it, and a particular shade of consciousness. You see on it, in it, joy, indifference, interest, excitement, torpor, and so on. [It’s] the light in other people’s faces.” Intuitively, then, the problem of other minds is no problem at all, but a farce—an unnecessary intellectual abstraction of a reality that is easily grasped by anyone willing to admit that “proof” is the burden of language and not the burden of reality as we experience it. In reality, the proof is in the pudding: taste it and you understand. There is no reason another person ought to have a mind, there is only the perception that they do, a perception arrived at through a direct, unmediated experience of reality.

Now, like Wittgenstein’s ladder, take these words and throw them out. You’ve climbed up and arrived at the experience of the truth that other minds exist by following an injunction rather than by understanding a logical proof. Kick aside the ladder and realize the truth as an experience rather than as a rational argument.

Of course, it may be important to define what is meant by “mind” in the first place. Here is John Locke’s view concerning the nature of the self, or mind: “[It is] impossible for any one to perceive without perceiving that he does perceive.” Locke’s statement almost perfectly exemplifies the fundamentally contradictory nature of all forms of dualistic knowledge. It is indeed impossible for any one to perceive without perceiving that he does perceive, but notice the necessity of the premise “for any one.” This one is the “mind,” the “I,” the individual person, the illusory place holder given to each human entity by the grammatical structure inherent to his way of describing reality. So it is true then, at least “true enough” in Wittgenstein’s words, that one cannot perceive without knowing he perceives, as it is said “I perceive” such that the perceiving is performed by me and therefore separate from me. But am “I” a real entity, a real thinking substance, or merely a product of the purely functional conventions of language (i.e. Wittgenstein’s suggestion that the meaning of a word is derived from its use)? As Huang Po, a Zen Buddhist monk, once said, “Let me remind you, the perceived cannot perceive.” If “I” am aware of my own perception of myself, which is the real me: my perception or my perception of my perception, or my perception of my perception of my perception, and so on? This indeterminacy appears to be unavoidable, however it arises only because of the dualistic nature of language, because an “I” must “have” perceptions instead of there just being perception alone.

This “perception alone” is the only real quality that can be assigned to reality, although it hardly suggests any specific qualities at all. We all intuitively feel this perception at the deepest level of our experience all the time. It reveals what there is. It is our current experience, our body’s total sensory awareness of our environment as it exists in its entirety before the names and descriptions we then unknowingly superimpose upon it become our only way of thinking about it to describe it to others.

Of course, alphabetized language is only one of the scientific community’s tools of discovery. The other is mathematics, and there is little doubt among scientists that its descriptions of the processes of nature are far more accurate than what words can provide. As physicist Sir James Jeans has said, “The essential fact is simply that all the pictures which science now draws of nature, and which alone seem capable of according with observational fact, are mathematical pictures.” The usefulness of mathematics—its ability to match with astonishing precision the naturally occurring patterns found in the external world—has been known by humans for thousands of years, dating back to the earliest schools of Greek Philosophy. One such school, the Pythagoreans, saw in mathematics a more perfect reality than that which we perceive through our flawed senses. The founder of the school, Pythagoras, carefully studied the sounds made by his lyre, noting that a string could be made to vibrate at different harmonic frequencies. A string half the length would vibrate at twice the frequency. This simple ratio is an example of the early connections found between the pure abstraction of mathematics and the real phenomenal world. But the school had its critics, namely Aristotle, who said of the Pythagoreans that they “did not seek for explanations and theories to suit the facts, but distorted the facts to fit certain theories and favored opinions, and set themselves up, one might say, as co-arrangers of the universe” (Jeans paraphrasing Aristotle). This criticism comes from one of the world’s first great empiricists, and it has been echoed by many since. Most scientists today agree that a certain combination of applied mathematics and empirical investigation is an acceptable means of deriving knowledge from the natural world. Unfortunately, as practical as such a compromise may seem, a growing number of scientists, like the physicists mentioned in this paper, have come to realize the inherent shortcomings of such an approach. The observation of the strange world of quantum particles has forever altered the way science views the world, as the search for the fundamental substance of matter has been shown not only to be difficult, but infeasible. The empiricists can no longer assert a priori that his observations are of an actual, physically subsisting world. In other words, physical science has reached the boundaries of its field of inquiry, not because it has reached the Truth or ultimate ground of being (or because it has come to the conclusion that no such Truth can be said to exist), but because when it tried to do so, it found in nature nothing but its own reflection. If, as Locke said centuries before subsequent empirical observation could prove him correct, that “the real essence of substances” is unknowable, then, to use Jeans words, “We can only progress by discussing the laws which govern the changes of substances, and so produce the phenomena of the external world.” For science to remain viable, it must realize and accept it limits, focusing on bringing hidden patterns (or “laws”) to the surface, rather than on finding the one and only Truth. Mathematics, then, can return to the forefront as the best known map of the phenomenal world. Of all the man-made conceptual molds thus far laid atop nature, mathematics, because of its unique correspondence to the world, remains the one that has allowed us the deepest understanding.

Plato, a Pythagorean, based his theory of Ideas on the supposed perfection of a mathematically-arranged cosmos. His well-known allegory of the cave provides the perfect metaphor of his picture of the universe, in that the world presented as it is to our senses is merely a shadow version of the more ideal world from which it arose. This ideal world, says Plato, is mathematically perfect.

As perfect as this ideal world may be, and as neatly as the mathematician’s calculations may appear to mirror it, there remains an issue of contention. It is as if someone had cast a line into a pond in hopes of catching a fish, had caught a rather large one, and had then proceeded to brag of his accomplishment to another. This other then remarked to the first that he had earlier seen him stock the pond with the fish himself. As Jeans relates, “It would prove nothing if nature had merely been found to act in accordance with the concepts of applied mathematics; these concepts were specially and deliberately designed by man to fit the workings of nature.” Jeans goes on to say that, even if mathematics was not “deliberately designed,” but instead unconsciously remembered from the depths of our mind as a means of translation between it and the world, it remains true that no knowledge is actually gained of the outside world other than that which has been put into it by the mind itself.

So then, we’ve arrived back again at where we started: stumped by the intriguing relationship between mind and matter, thought and substance, ideal and actual. Truth, it would seem, is not some dogmatic claim awaiting human discovery; it is not a secret code etched into nature that might be found and spoken, written, or mathematically formulated and thereafter known for all time. Instead, Truth is that which motivates the formulating. Truth is both that which animates the world and that which makes up its total being. Truth, then, might be said to include but transcend the lesser, knowledge-based notions of true and false that dominate human thought. In this sense, Truth is always one step ahead of our apprehension, consistently outpacing us in our race toward ultimate understanding.

Might it not be said, though, that on account of our current formulating—through the act of our present participation in the cosmic game of pattern formation—we already “know” the Truth? If, as it appears obvious at least to this observer, that the universe, in both its internal/mental and external/material senses, is essentially a continuously forming pattern, then isn’t it more useful to think of Truth as the continuous evolution of the universe as a whole? In this sense, Truth may be closer to a verb than a noun. For the sake of argument, suppose we were to come across some notion of absolute and final Truth about the world we inhabit; would it not become obsolete in the very next moment, as the universe continued to evolve into new forms with altogether different Truths? This is, in effect, another way of saying that, while the mind’s static concepts may not always fit the ever evolving cosmos, the ever evolving cosmos nonetheless always fits the mind, because the cosmos includes and transcends the mind. The cosmos, in other words, includes all time and space in which the mind can theorize. It is then unavoidable that the mind should be enveloped by the Truth always, regardless of how frustrated it may become in its fatuous pursuit of something more. This pursuit, as was said earlier, arises due to a misunderstanding of the nature of Truth. The Truth, by the sheer fact of its namesake, must be directly apprehendable at all times. It is by virtue of this obviousness that the Truth be missed, as we are like fish that swim in the ocean but haven’t yet noticed the water.

Socrates, even though he was doubtless a great philosopher, never wrote a thing. He believed the written word was left too vulnerable to misinterpretation, because the one who reads may pull from the same words something entirely different than what the author himself intended. He also felt that writing made the mind lazy, in that it took over what was formally an internal act of memorization. Knowledge written upon a page no longer needs to be remembered by an individual, and as a result the individual comes to understand less of what he thinks he knows, becoming more focused on the collection and recording of information for its own sake than on the practical application of it in the present moment. Instead of writing, Socrates preferred face-to-face dialogue, as it forced immediate justification of each person’s statements. Truth, for Socrates, was far closer to this kind of immediate, personal discourse than to the abstract realms described by words on a page. Unfortunately, the medium of the page is the one upon which the current set of ideas must be drafted, and as such, the writer can claim only that which the reader has understood. For, as Socrates is still so quick to remind us, we may not have any way of knowing exactly what we mean by the words we use. To conclude a paper on such terms doesn’t leave the claims made in a very convincing light. However, being that the work itself was concerned with exactly this problem, it can only be suggested that the reader take these words, not for what they are, but for what they mean.