Thursday, August 29, 2013

Nothingness or the Mystical

When one forms a picture of the world, there is often room for words that lack any phenomenological anchors. The words may be essential to the coherence and completeness of the picture, but if someone pointed to the word and asked 'what does this look like' there would be no answer to give.

It is not hard to think of examples. The self. God. Statements of value. There is much that we speak of that we can not verify by appealing to the world of appearance, concepts that lack a phenomenological proof criteria.

That such language exists cannot be denied, what each person must work out for themselves is how they will regard such concepts. It seems to come down to either Nothingness or the Mystical. Let us take the Self for example: by my philosophy, Self is Perception, but this is a peculiar thought as we tend to conceive of perception as an activity. The idea of Self as Perception invites speculation that the Self is something deeper and Perception is merely the activity that we happen to be aware of. However, what could we possibly know about this deeper something? It is deeper than our body, it is deeper than our mind; how could we possibly grasp something that has more depth than our faculty for grasping? So when we talk about Self we are necessarily talking nonsense, but what kind of nonsense is it? Nothingness? or the Mystical?

If Nothingness, then all this Self talk is illusory nonsense. Perhaps it is a useful illusion, perhaps very adaptive and maybe we should hold on to this helpful illusion a bit, but illusion all the same.

If the Mystical, then the Self is something of such depth that we can only hope for little sparks of experience to shine light on something that must be lived rather than understood. We do not write the Self off, instead we see our language as limited.

Where is the substance of this difference?

Those who write off those things we cannot grasp as Nothingness can get on with doing the good work of grasping what we can grasp. Putting aside the question of the soul is a good first step to understanding the nature of cumulus clouds, the mating habits of brine shrimp, and building rockets that do not burn up in the atmosphere. In a way it can be seen as an efficient way of preserving processing power by requiring that concepts meet certain criteria before they are worth weaving into pictures.

However it is often felt that those who wave these concepts off as Nothingness lose their humanity in the process. Often not in action - it is not as though materialists are all monsters - rather that their pictures of the world are too small to actually depict the human experience. Those who see the Mystical find themselves living on the tip of an iceberg with a whole terrible and wonderful world lurking under the surface. All this could be nothing more than fantasizing and wish-fulfillment if it did not color the way we live our lives and the way we pursue knowledge. There are mystical forms of reasoning - and it is too much to consider the question of their validity at this time - which offer methods of gaining dim knowledge of the mystical. And of course one may treat their neighbors, lovers, and enemies differently if they regard them as the phenomenological tip of a deep and mysterious iceberg of a soul.

For me, I see no reason we must regard concepts without phenomenological anchors as Nothingness, but I do see the advantages of doing so for certain intellectual endeavors. Whatever Mystical knowledge we might obtain would certainly be very personal, and therefore ever in danger of becoming tyrannical when it is communicated to those who do not obtain the knowledge first hand. In some ways I might say it would be safer to regard those things without anchors as Nothingness, if it weren't for the fact that many would not be able to breathe that air.

No comments:

Post a Comment