Monday, December 26, 2016

The New World and the Old Made Explicit: Excursus on the Meaning of Life

Only through time time is conquered. 
- Burt Norton
Exploration leads to new cartography. (Americas appear on the European globe; experiments modify theory; relationships lead to words of promise)

New cartography to new questions. (The antique globe suggests possible trade routes; theory has sudden holes; promises suggest future joy or incongruences leading to fissures )

New questions to further exploration. (Poking around for the Northwest Passage; inventing the Hadron Collider; kindling of passion, searching for betrayal)

The only real satisfaction is an entire world understood; the entirety of the terrain traversed, the relations of the whole complete and coherent. The pulling together of all joys, facts, and accomplishments. In every world we are to explore, every world we are given, there is a world to be achieved so that greater satisfaction is to be had. And this is where we find ourselves. Human beings are to explore to achieve satisfaction.

To obtain achievement in this direction is to obtain greater satisfaction. As is stated in The Good Book, human being's purpose is to cultivate a garden for their own enjoyment. And this enjoyment is life. Life is nothing other than complete satisfaction.

But this cultivation is a pain. For we must abandon our old conceptions, abandon everything our self clings to in order to survive. And this is death.

Hence as poets have long known, death and life are inseparable. To achieve life, one must go by the way of death.

Hence also, the scientists. A cell divides. A tree degrades into nutrients for other trees. Theories give way to better ones.

Hence also, the religious. Self denial leads to self fulfillment. And further than this: complete death, leads to complete life: death in service to The Way, leads to Resurrection. And Resurrection is no metaphor, it is the fullness of this process itself.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Truth is an Amoeba

Image result for amoeba
Truth is an amoeba. You might take this to be metaphor; but so taking, you would be only half-right. I mean it literally as well as metaphorically: truth is an amoeba. Still my seriousness will be in doubt; how can a simple-minded (or rather, no-minded) single celled organism be related to truth itself, let alone be it?

There are many apparent problems with my identification. Truth is thought to be an abstract concept, not a concrete happenstance, not a living, changing organism, and not a humble thing. But all should become clear in consideration and meditation on what truth is. In reflection and in surprise (perhaps), we will come to see that truth is indeed literally an amoeba.

Since truth is literally an amoeba, we can start on either end. We can consider truth and, under the microscope, discover that it is a little organism; or we can go the other way: see in the amoeba’s grasping its environment, eating its prey, the entirety of all qualities of truth. But for a full identification, it seems necessary for both ends to meet; otherwise, we might think one might be fooled into thinking that an amoeba is truth, but truth is not an amoeba.

Truth => Amoeba

Truth is something we strive for, yes. And we don’t strive for an amoeba, certainly. Nevertheless truth is something recognized: we notice it when we have it. When we make a discovery, learn how to perform an action, realize a relationship; a rush of satisfaction, saying that the pieces of our life’s puzzle has come together. And when the pieces fit in any puzzle, we say we have gotten things correct. Our satisfaction tells us we have achieved truth.

Reality is a big puzzle however, and so truth is something we always pursue. So in what way do we pursue the truth? We use our bodies to probe the world around us, taking in ideas to digest pieces of digestible environment to satisfy our hunger for truth. This process is very ameoba-like, suggestive that truth is like an amoeba’s striving for mastery of its environment.

Yet some would say that this is metaphor. Truth-seeking is an ameoba-like process. But truth isn’t an amoeba. And I would say “no.” Truth is literally an amoeba. The way we should think about it is this. Truth-seeking and truth should not be strictly differentiated. They are in fact the same. When we see this, we see that “truth is an ameoba-like process.” But then! We see that being amoeba-like is very much being an amoeba. Then we realize what I’ve been saying all along: truth is an amoeba.

If truth-seeking and truth are utterly different, then it turns out these two words no longer have any meaning. For then how can we say our truth-seeking is real truth-seeking if truth is not an experience: namely, the satisfaction of achieving coherence in one’s world of experience? Thus truth is an experience, and part of an action, the action of seeking-truth. And we cannot refer to truth-seeking without an idea of truth. And again, the idea of truth cannot be separated from truth seeking. For how do we think of truth, or how do we realize what it is? It is only by reflection upon our truth-seeking endeavors. Thus truth is an ameoba-like process.

But how is being an amoeba similar to undergoing amoeba like processes? Basically this can be said by turning the old phrase: “if it looks like an amoeba, smells like an amoeba, and talks like an amoeba, it is an amoeba.” Thus truth is an amoeba.

Amoeba => Truth

But literally? Ok, I exaggerated, in a sense. Truth isn’t literally that squishy single celled organism. But nevertheless truth is an amoeba, literally; and I do not speak out of both sides of my mouth in saying this. I am simply not using language in as strict a sense as you might like it. But my meaning is frank and clear, and though you may not like it, you know what I mean. And when language conveys meaning clearly, it is mere nitpicking and mere nagging to quibble over words.

And really, given the above, in what way is truth not an amoeba? In no significant sense. You might have the following objections. (a) Truth is disembodied, and an amoeba is embodied. (b) Amoebae are not sentient. Truth needs experiencers for it to be considered truth.

But we will see that each of these objections is ill-founded.

(a) We have seen above that truth is something we reach using whatever embodied faculties we have. And since truth-seeking is embodied, and since any strict demarkation between truth-seeking and truth is absurd, we must say that truth is embodied too.

Further if we see life as part of one big tree where what came before and what came after is all connected, where we are ourselves connected to the amoeba, our bodies are related to the amoeba, then even my “admission of exaggeration” was really unnecessary, and we really can say that truth is an amoeba. 

(b) A last objection would be this: truth is appreciated only by minds, and minds are not physical entities. Minds think. Amoeba don’t think in a meaningful sense; they don’t apprehend truth. In actual fact, this objection is the worst, and it has nothing going for it. For truth we have seen is an embodied affair,  and attempts to separate our minds from our bodies, our faculties of investigation, is futile. Sentience must then be seen as the purposeful investigation of the world. Both persons and amoeba do this, only at different levels and for different purposes.

In closing, I’ll repurpose an old proverb.

Go to the amoeba, you close-minded; consider its ways and be wise; which has no fixed position within its world, yet lives and dies, steadily gaining command over its world, striving to gain mastery, and not regretting its humble position.

Monday, December 12, 2016

EAIM: Can We Know Reality?

"Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind
Cannot bear very much reality."
- T.S. Eliot in Burnt Norton
Let's suppose that we can't. This means we know something about reality.

Let's say we can't know whether or not we know something about reality. This means we're saying we know something about reality.

Looks like we're stuck knowing reality.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

EAIM: The Nature of Truth

Image result for truth x files

"What is truth?"
- pontius pilate
"The truth is out there," is the hope of the X-File's FBI agents. Perpetually foiled, they nevertheless strive to uncover the relationship between the government and extraterrestrial life. Various layers of secret society turn every new piece of evidence into merely greater enigma. In this way the story progresses continually leaving both the agents and their TV audience unsatisfied, wondering whether the show's mantra is merely a false hope.

In our most gripping life pursuits, we are driven by the idea that "the truth is out there." However, our answers lead to more questions, and we have to wonder if the forces of concealment will forever hold our prize from our grasp. After prolonged searching and frustration, a dark doubt may begin to creep: Can we reach the truth at all?

Into this doubt comes Michael Oakeshott's meditation on the nature of truth. First, he says, we have to stop thinking of truth as something that is "out there," not something we don't already have knowledge of. For if the truth is something we have no clue about currently, we will never be able to reach the truth. For we wouldn't know what would count as the truth.

Oakeshott would make this analogy, I believe. Saying "the truth is out there" without knowing what would satisfy our search is like saying the following: I want to get to a place, but I don't know what it would be like or when I would find it.

Even if we accept this answer, it seems to miss the point: the FBI agents really don't know the truth they seek. And in general we feel the strain of not having the truths we want. Our disappointment is that we don't feel satisfied in our particular pursuit. It does not matter that we know some truths, we want to know a particular truth.

To this, Oakeshott would rephrase things into something even more shocking, but after consideration, what can only be the case: yes, the FBI agents don't know the particular truth they seek, yet they do know what would count as an answer. They know that an answer must accord with the knowledge they already have. Thus they already know something of the truth, and it isn't entirely "out there" at all. This means that all the truths we could possibly know, we already know a little about them.

After we digest this shock, we should come to realize that Oakeshott is using the word "truth" in a funny way. For him, truth isn't a "thing" at all. It's something that comes in degrees. We know more or less of it. It's a feeling about how the facts fit. It's satisfaction.

About "what is out there" the FBI agents know some truth, but they don't know complete truth. But we can turn the problem around. The evidence the FBI agents do have, that is, the concrete alien DNA samples, the creepy sound recordings, and the eye-witness accounts; all these! they only know partially. They certainly have the information, but they don't know what it means. In other words, they don't know the truth even about their evidence!

It is very important to let this sink in. We can apply this thinking to everything we know. We have information which we think are facts, but until we solve every question, we don't know the full meaning of these facts. In all actuality, what we think is important, might, when a new piece of knowledge comes to us, seem unimportant after all. And what is unimportant, might take on a whole new significance.

But in all this we might become dismayed. For this makes our whole reality topsy-turvy. Now it seems, we can't count on anything to stay still for us to surely reach the truth. Should we just give up on it all?

Not at all. Again as Oakeshott says, We do have knowledge of truth. Even though it is in degrees, we still have it. Though new information modifies what we know, the new information never implies that we should reject all of what we knew before. The only thing these realizations should spur us on to is humility. Since nothing is fixed for us, the only thing for us to do is follow what the experience says we should conclude. We are responsible for no more.
"There is, it seems to us,
At best, only a limited value
In the knowledge derived from experience.
The knowledge imposes a pattern, and falsifies,
For the pattern is new in every moment
And every moment is a new and shocking
Valuation of all we have been. We are only undeceived
Of that which, deceiving, could no longer harm.
In the middle, not only in the middle of the way
But all the way, in a dark wood, in a bramble,
On the edge of a grimpen, where is no secure foothold,
And menaced my monsters, fancy lights,
Risking enchantment. Do not let me hear
Of the wisdom of old men, but rather of their folly,
Their fear of fear and frenzy, their fear of possession,
Of belonging to another, or to others, or to God.
The only wisdom we can hope to acquire
Is the wisdom of humility: humility is endless."
- T.S. Eliot
in East Coker
"I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and because no lie is of the truth." - 1 John 

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

EAIM: The Character of Experience

Like many a good philosophical meditation, Experience and Its Modes begins with the definition of a key term: experience. Since experience is all-encompassing, it is important to note that whatever the definition, it is merely useful for a given purpose, and after my brief summary, I'll give my two cents as to what that is.

Oakeshott defines experience in an odd way. He says that all experience is coterminous with judgement. It is an initially shocking definition because we normally think of judgement as that which aids in formal deduction. We know we don't encounter the world in this way all the time. But further, it is strange in that judgement seems to be beyond experience: it is that force which moves us from mental state to mental state. Oakeshott's clarification is helpful and it broadens our outlook beyond these limited ideas.

Definition: Experience = judgement, which is a recognition of 'this,' not 'that.' It is a reflective modification of experience

In the likeness of a mathematical proof, this definition is demonstrated in the following way: he shows that experience cannot be either more than or less than judgment. Once this is shown we may conclude that experience and judgement are one and the same.

What is said to be less than judgement, is sensation; what is more, intuition. To be full, his argument must cover all of its bases: what is said to be more, and what is said to be less, must fall on the same spectrum, the same axis; and all that is experience must be imagined to fall on this axis. And the axis is said to be that of recognition of 'this' not that. In sensation, supposedly, we see a bare 'this.' It is not related to a background of 'not that.' In intuition, the 'this' not 'that' melts into complete union. There is no this or that, everything is seen as a mere oneness.
First, I'll give a justification of this spectrum as representative of all we could plausibly experience. In experience there are always things to experience; that is, there are always "this"s; and it appears, we have different "this"s which find themselves related within a world. These relations could go so far as identification, for even in two different "this"s, the relations of one to the other may be exhaustive: one completely defines the other. And these thoughts seem to exhaust what we mean by experience.

Now Oakeshott proceeds to say that the extreme ends of our spectrum are not actually experiences; at best, they are limiting concepts conceived by their likeness to certain features of judgement, but not actually concepts which can count as experience apart from all the features of judgement.

Sensation = Judgement. In imagining what we mean by pure sensation, we realize that we never in fact have this so-called experience. For in recognizing a "this," we in fact recognize the "this," that is, it appears identifiably within the field of our current experience. It is found somewhere within a whole in such a way that when it appears, it already bears relation to all within it.

Judgement = Intuition. [Here, I depart a bit from Oakeshott's train of thought. I don't understand it well enough.] In imagining what we mean by pure intuition, we realize, again, that we are dealing with an abstraction and not an experience (i.e. being confused).  Under this idea of intuitive experience, 'knowledge of' and 'knowledge about' are utterly distinct. So then, because judgement never gets at the reality, it is superfluous. So then "sensation" is superfluous. But this leaves only the process of identification for recognizing reality. We no longer have recognition. And it all seems to fall apart here. For all data is always given, nothing is added or removed. And reality is not in our experience static.

Why This Definition

Since it encompasses everything that we know, "experience" seems to thereby be the broadest term possible. Thus, there would seem to be an infinite ways of defining it or getting it across. In a sense, since intuition, judgement, and sensation are distinctions without differences, we could have defined reality as any of these.  So then we may ask why "judgement?" It primes the mind to understanding what we mean by truth; and truth is a domain in which judgement has a natural home: criticism has been the way of the west since Descartes.