Enlightenment: Appearance vs reality

The idea of enlightenment or liberation put forward in Hermann Hesse “Siddhartha” is quite wonderful.

There is a long standing tradition within philosophical thought of distinguishing between the world as it appears and the world as it is. Kant calls the two Noumenal reality and Phenomenal reality. In Hindu thought the world as it appears is reality seen through the veil of Maya.

 

I think the reason for the prevalence of this belief is that as humans we have a tendency to put things into words. It is not enough to see a flower but we must know its name. We must capture it in language. This is all well and good. It is useful. If someone else wants to experience flower then it is useful for us to be able to communicate where the flower is. It allows experience to become more communal.

The idea of enlightenment put forward in the book is enlightenment is seeing reality in appearance. That what appears is reality appearing. Now this sounds like ideality. It sounds like it is saying esse est percipi. But it really isn’t. It’s basically a forsaking of the question “What causes reality to appear?” and “why does reality appear as it does?” and “is there a reality that does appear?”. It is realizing that these questions are unanswerable. That in a sense they are meaningless.

See Berkeley didn’t prove that esse est percipi. He just showed that whatever causes experience is inconceivable not that nothing causes experience. In a sense nothing – no thing – is the cause of experience because a thing is something that is perceived, that is conditioned, and that has the qualities of experience such as extension, color, weight and so on. All we can really do is give an empty placeholder for the cause of experience – which may very well be non-existent; it may very well be that esse est percipi but we cannot authenticate such a claim.

So what is the grounds for knowledge? Experience and subjectivity are the grounds for knowledge. Even claims for the existence of God are grounded in experience and subjectivity. What are the grounds for objective knowledge? None.

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10 thoughts on “Enlightenment: Appearance vs reality

  1. So there’s this question, “how do I know anything actually exists and that I am not dreaming everything I think is real?”. Well, what difference would it make? Whether it is real or a dream, it still hurts when you stub your toe against a chair, whether it is real or dreamed. And within the dream, you have a mind which can imagine a chair made of marshmallows. So within the dream you have both real and imagined objects. And, again within the dream, you distinguish the real chair, that hurts your toe, from the imaginary one. Basically, the conception of living within a dream becomes an constant, which can then be dismissed as irrelevant, since in or out of this dream everything remains exactly as it appears.

    When you say that, “All we can really do is give an empty placeholder for the cause of experience”, you are mistaken, because the placeholder for the cause of experience is labeled “reality”. That is the concept or idea that we commonly use to refer to the things that we experience through our senses.

    Every living creature has senses to help it deal with that reality. Most of our senses are more effective in other species, like bats hearing and dogs smelling and eagles seeing. But we have also extended our senses with special equipment, like microscopes, telescopes, radar, etc.

    • If reality is the term we use to express “the things that we experience through our senses.” Then that wouldn’t be the empty placeholder we use for the cause of experience. We could equally well say that “All we can really do is give an empty placeholder for the cause of reality” because all you’ve done is made reality and experience synonymous.

      I think a better – by which i mean more useful – content to give the term reality would be that which causes experience or that which is independent of a subject. Which basically makes it equivalent to terms such as God, Source, Being and such 😀

      • In place of “God, Source, Being and such” I would use “chair”, “sunlight”, “trees”, “bumblebees”, and such.

        I can deal with the chair, or ignore it and trip over it. Other people can witness and confirm the existence of the chair. I can even enjoy the chair when I’m tired of standing. Therefore, it seems simpler to me to consider the “chair” to be the source of my experience of the chair rather than imagining something else.

        The chair is certainly independent of me. It is an object I experience objectively, by touch, sight, and the sound when I knock on it.

        What would be the point of considering “God, Source, or Being” in the equation?

        Actually, my answer to that is that the “God” concept is useful to convey the meaning of Good, anthropomorphically. Seeking good is what led someone to invent the chair, and make more for his friends, one of whom invented the cushion and shared that with him in return. We are born into a world of good that we did not ourselves create, but which we may preserve for our children and perhaps add our humble contributions.

  2. Naive realism which states that the reality that causes our experience is basically identical to our experience of it is a reasonable answer to the question “What causes our experience?”.

    The problem is that there is more than one answer to the question and that there is no objective criteria by which we can choose any one answer over the other. This is one of the reasons i liked the idea of enlightenment put forward by Hermann Hesse.

    “It’s basically a forsaking of the question “What causes reality to appear?” and “why does reality appear as it does?” and “is there a reality that does appear?”. It is realizing that these questions are unanswerable. That in a sense they are meaningless.”

    By meaningless there i mean they are undecidable. They are impossible to empirically verify (because you cannot verify a claim concerning the origins of experience with an empirical claim (that is to say a claim grounded in experience)) and the many answers to the question are all logically consistent. So there are no cognitive grounds for choosing naive realism over say a form of idealism that says that there is no reality causing our experience (because cause and effect may only hold within experience).

    This is why – when I play the philosophy game – I’m a sceptic! Which means that i believe there are certain propositions (such as metaphysical propositions which include the answers to the question we’ve been dealing with) that are unverifiable. That is to say we are incapable of ascertaining their truth-value.

    • Ah. A. J. Ayers in “Language, Truth, and Logic” suggested we can dispose of metaphysics entirely. He recommended that the goal of philosophy was to make “meaningful statements”. The criteria for such a statement would be whether we can describe an observation that would demonstrate the truth or falseness of the statement (whether it is practical to actually perform the observation or not). For example, a statement like “God is the source of reality” is meaningless in philosophy because it can neither be confirmed nor denied by any empirical observation. On the other hand, it may be meaningful in religion as a spiritual tool.

      Ayers was saying the “unverifiable” statements, where one cannot even imagine how they might be tested, are meaningless. And a lot of metaphysical statements fall into this category. So they can be dismissed out of hand and the mind can move on to more productive endeavors. 🙂

      The chair may have many aspects that are undetectable to my senses. Yet it is still the object itself and my interaction with it which is the cause of my experience. The real chair is not imaginary, even though I can also imagine a chair. The source of the chair is the same as the source of me. We are both results of and exist in objective reality.

      The chair consists of molecules of cellulose. My sensory apparatus consists of receptors, neural pathways, and a brain which is designed to make sense of reality so that I can survive in my environment.

      My encounter with the chair is the source of my experience of the chair and of myself in relation to the chair. That should answer the question, “What causes our experience?” — for everyone, including Hesse and Kant.

  3. All that you experience are mental phenomena. You assume that those mental phenomena are caused by exterior physical phenomena. You do not know this. There is no way of authenticating it. According to Ayers verificationism (which I was using previously) the claim “There is a chair external to me” is meaningless just as much as the claim “There is a God external to me”.

    All we can know are mental phenomena – you know qualia. The source of the concatanation of qualia I designate as chair could well be your naive realist (i don’t mean to sound derogatory it is just the name for your position that i know) claim. It could also very well be an idealist claim – something like our experience of the chair is caused by another mind imprinting on ours. There’s no way of distinguishing between the two because they are both metaphysical statements – that is using as a definition for metaphysical that which goes beyond experience.

    “Ayers was saying the “unverifiable” statements, where one cannot even imagine how they might be tested, are meaningless. And a lot of metaphysical statements fall into this category.”

    Your statements concerning the chair fall under this catergory:

    “Yet it is still the object itself and my interaction with it which is the cause of my experience. [How do you know this? How do you know that some God thing isn’t imprinting the image on your mind? What can you site as proof? All you are aware of is your experience and in order to proove this you would have to be aware of your experience and of what causes your experience.] The real chair is not imaginary, [yet again how? what can you adduce to proove this claim?] even though I can also imagine a chair. The source of the chair is the same as the source of me [I agree with you but how did we get this belief and how do we test it?]. We are both results of and exist in objective reality. [Yet again i agree but how can we proove it? And if we cannot proove it than it is a meaningless statement :P]”

    All of what you said there – and I agree with it – is metaphysics!

    “Ayers was saying the “unverifiable” statements, where one cannot even imagine how they might be tested, are meaningless. And a lot of metaphysical statements fall into this category. So they can be dismissed out of hand and the mind can move on to more productive endeavors. :-)”

    Absolutely and that was the basic gist of my blog 😀

    • Proving the chair exists external to myself is fairly easy. I just set the chair in front of you and ask you to walk through it. Proving that God exists is not so simple.

      Speaking of “simple”, the reason that the Earth revolves around the Sun rather than vice versa is because “things are simpler” that way. Charting the motion of the planets and stars would still be “possible” in an Earth-centric system, but I imagine it would be difficult to land Voyager on Mars due to the math.

      Which brings us back to the “dream” case, but with your variation, that God was projecting the dream upon our imagination. As before, that scenario, even if true, would still be irrelevant, because everything remains the same: we still trip over external objects in our path, so we must move them or walk around them. We gain no superpowers from the scenario. And we end up with an explanation which is more complex, and unnecessarily so, just like the earth-Centric universe.

      So, objective proof is generally considered an observation that can be repeated by two or more separate observers. When you trip over the chair, I’m sure you stop calling my claim metaphysical. 🙂

      • It’s still metaphysical lol – – because there is no way of testing whether I exist independently of you (for you that is). Solipsism though it sounds absurd is impossible to falsify – just as the claim that there are others is impossible to falsify…

        Sure we believe that there are others and live accordingly but when we play the game of proving things we find that it is unprovable and using a verificationist standard of legitimacy we see that the claim “there are others” is just as illegitimate/meaningless as the claim “There are others”
        See you are like a man who builds a house made of blocks of wet sand on a foundation of wet sand who says “I agree that wet sand is a weak building material but my house is secure because it has a foundation”

        How do you know that all because something is simpler it is true? Ockam’s razor does not necessarily give a positive truth value!

        To assert objective truth is to be dogmatical and therefore religious because he who asserts such a thing wishes to force others to believe what he believes and to achieve that end he cannot possibly allow skepticism!

      • The nice thing about objective reality is that it requires no proof in order to convince. You can see and feel the chair just as I can.

        The stories you spin about the chair being totally in one person’s imagination are dispelled by the second person who observes the chair. And if all of objective reality is a matter of imagination, then it might as well NOT be a matter of imagination — unless you can escape the dream, rewrite it, and re-enter it. The inability to escape the dream makes the dream the same as reality, so we’re back to dealing with reality as it appears to be, and it appears that you will trip over the chair if you imagine it is not there.

        Any alternate conception of reality must demonstrate its usefulness. For example, I was walking by a Christian Science church where the minister was correcting the letters on the bulletin board outside the church. I suggested to him that if he were thinking rightly it would already be correct. He smiled and went back to fixing the spelling.

        Wishful thinking is only useful for entertainment, not for dealing with actual reality. Philosophers who imagine that objective reality might be just a dream offer nothing useful for dealing with reality.

        To say the chair is a “ghost” rather than a physical object only works if the rest of us are convinced that a “ghost” is something that has four legs, a seat, a back, and is an object fashioned for sitting. But we already have a word for that. It’s called a “chair”. Just as we have a name for what is outside our minds, we call it “objective reality”. And that definition holds in all practical matters.

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