Ramblings with the absolute

For me books aren’t a way of finding out about absolute truth. I don’t think there is one. I think it comes from the human urge to summarize things.

We conceive of the absolute truth like a final sentence. A sentence to take the place of all other sentences. A sentence from which all other sentences derive.

The thing is such a thing does not exist. Language is useful because it allows an almost infinite amount to be said. Grammatically “The tasty cellar ate the dark, empty radish” makes sense yet it is about nothing that could exist in experience. Sentences such as “A square circle” and “a colorless color” are other examples.

That language is so plastic is the essence of its usefulness but it’s also the reason why you can’t derive statements from one another. I mean you can by mixing them up and such; but the reason you can’t get the statements concerning what I’m doing now from what you were doing 20 minutes ago is that plasticity. Well you could but you wouldn’t know as there would be an almost infinite number of possible statements concerning what I’m doing now and a smaller infinity would contain the set of true statements and so on. So you would never know which ones corresponded to the truth of your particular progression through various reality configurations.

It is that many statements can possibly preceed or proceed any statement or set of statements; just as any word or conceivably letter could go before or after any other that you can’t just reduce statements to one another if they are about something in particular; like a road-trip or relativity.

This mirrors the plasticity of reality. Reality contains many distinct and often mutually exclusive things. Their pairing being numerous enough to stink of infinity means that reality contains the possibility of any possible pairing and cannot be reduced to any specific configuration. Thus no absolute reality because every definition inevitably misses part of reality and would be an appearance amongst appearances (Oh such a sweet statement! I think that sums up the dominant way I perceive things: “An appearance amongst appearances”).

You may say that all sentences can be derived from one sentence. Have a sentence, have access to the alphabet and use the laws of sentence formation to construct new sentence repeat ad infinitum. This fails in the sense that quantum explanations for free-will fail. The entire force of free-will in Christianity and social control generally is that it serves as the necessary prerequisite for metaphysical guilt.

You deserve what you get because you chose this.

Anyway using quantum weirdness or any natural phenomena to explain free-will gives this free-will to everything thus free-will loses its relevance.

The same is true here in that the absolute is meant to be singular, uniquely perfect but you can derive any sentence from any sentence; and that’s supposed to be the unique power of the absolute. So the absolute at best becomes a first amongst many at worst a false echo from a powerful link in an infinite chain.

Whatever the ontological status of the absolute is. What I have said is all about how we think not about reality in-it-self so to speak. There could well be a reality which inspired the first numinous finger-point. But whatever it is or was to most people who espouse it it is nothing but a nothing. Something beyond and above experience that cannot be experienced. It’s the ultimate fallacy of ignorance.

Funny thing is that both sides of the debate are arguing from ignorance. The for and against the ontological status of real being given to the absolute.

So yeah I don’t use books to search for what ain’t there. I like knowing stuff in such a way that I can produce my own facts within its domain. Get the essence of it so I can riff it to myself at work.

Experience and inference

One of the problems that you encounter when you first come across ideas like non-duality is that on some level you believe that in order for you to understand it the world must appear other than it has up until then.

You’ve been thinking dualistically and straining your experience through that experiential sieve.

Since dualistic thinking is the only thinking you have been subjected to and lived in you find it hard to disentangle your thoughts about reality from reality itself.

The one fact of our existence that we cannot doubt or change is that we experience. Not that we experience stuff. The stuff is an inference from experience.

But to leave the sentence at “we experience” troubles us because experience is playing the role of a verb in that sentence. It is something we are doing and seems to need an object.

“I experience taste” and such.

Even the sentence “we experience” is an inference because there is nothing else but the experience that isn’t an inference.

We infer from experience ourselves as the experiencer.

I know this sounds a bit circular but if you look at your own experience and ask yourself “Where/what am I?” You’ll see you never experience yourself as the experiencer; you just experience.

This isn’t to say with Berkeley that “esse ist percipi” or that the essence or being is the perception or experience because this is also an inference.

All we can say with certainty is that there is an experience.

Even that we can only say when there actually is an experience occurring though we couldn’t even say it if there weren’t an experience occurring. This is because knowing is an experience.

Now there are many interpretations and explanations for experience. All of them “fit” experience because all of them are trying to explain the same set of data. This is essentially the purpose of metaphysics.

This means that whatever one is true makes no difference to your experience. Everything is Brahma pretending to be separate things accounts for the same experience as materialism.

This leads most people to justifiably shrug their shoulders in disinterest concerning metaphysical questions because in terms of how you live it doesn’t really matter which is true.

Which is why a lot of religions create a stake in the metaphysical terrain as a means of investing people in their systems. The typical stake is something like karma or heaven/hell.

The hubris of thought

A very common trap we fall into with our thinking is the belief that reality has to conform to our thinking.

This is shown in the ontological argument for the existence of God.

The ontological argument goes:

God is that than which nothing greater can be thought.

That than which nothing greater can be thought (we’ll call it god from here on in. Think of God as a variable; like an x in algebra) can be thought of as existing and not existing.

God existing is greater than god not existing therefore we cannot think of God as not existing.

All well and good but the final clause in the argument is the trap I am talking about.

Therefore God must exist. (implicitly: because we cannot think of God as not existing)

What we have done here is show that using certain laws for thought – playing a certain thought game as Wittgenstein would put it – you cannot think of God as not existing. The trap is to then extend this beyond the limits of thought itself. Why should reality conform to laws of thought?

This trap is so common because I believe it is something we are born believing. It’s behind the belief called naïve realism. We all believe that the world outside of our experience must conform to the world of our experience without ever having any proof for or against this belief.

Another example of this way of thinking, of how we extend the rules of thought to illegitimately (without any ground) make claims about reality is the idea of infinite divisibility.

Numbers come from counting and counting is a process that is reversible. You can go on into infinity and you can go back to infinity. You can also count within a number (1, ½, 1/3, ¼ etc). This capacity is something our brains can do.

We can do loops and such things with ease. But is reality infinite? Is the space out there that we experience infinitely divisible? This is of course an empirical question and because of that and the nature of infinity it is impossible to answer. But we just assume without too much trouble that this must be the case.

Always try to maintain the distinction between the thought and what it is a thought about and let the thought be determined by the object of thought. Don’t try to put a square peg in a round hole.

Numbers, language and meaning

I noticed something a while ago. I was cleaning at school and came across a table with 3 columns. In the first column were the numerals 1 to 10, in the second column the binary values for 1 to 10 and in the third column the hex values for 1 to 10.

The curious thing I realized as I studied the table arose from the question “What do these symbols stand for?”

If I were to ask you what the binary value 10 stood for you would probably say “That stands for 2” and this wouldn’t give you too much trouble.

But what does 2 stand for? 2 is as much a symbol as 10.

The French word (read: symbol) for pineapple is ananas.

The English word for ananas is pineapple.

Ananas and pineapple are both symbols that mean the same thing as 2 and 10 mean the same thing. The difference is that the referent of the symbols for pineapple can be pointed to.

Say I ask you to point out 2 to me. You may direct my attention to a pair of nuts and say “There’s 2: 2 nuts”. If I subtract from the image everything that belongs to the nuts (shape, colour, size, position etc) then I am left with nothing.

There isn’t some entity I can point to and say “Look, there is 2”

This isn’t so much a problem in reality. It is a problem with a picture of language we have developed called the picture theory of language. That is the theory that states that all words have a meaning or that meaning is defined as being a correspondence between a symbol and what it signifies. Numbers are words, components of language that have no signified.

Truth, Listening and Suspension of disbelief

Before you can tell if something is true or not there are a few basic things you have to do. The ability to discern the truth of a thing comes at the end of a process not at the beginning.

Imagine you are in a library. Now in this library you are told that some of the books contain the truth but others do not contain the truth.

There are two basic ways people have gone about deciding which books are true and which aren’t through-out history.

One is to just go on the say so of someone else. That is someone tells you which are true and which are not thus relieving you of the burden of reading them yourself.

This doesn’t include someone telling you about what is in the books. That is relaying to you the contents of the books. Though in that case – if the only access you had to the books was the hearsay of others – it would be wise to hear from many people.

Here someone merely points to a book and says “true”. You go on and tell other people that so and so book is true because so and so said it was.

The other way is to read the books yourself. To take in the information in the books themselves. This seems to me the only way to know whether they are true or not.

Of course you can’t decide whether a book is true or not without contact with what the book is about.

So what you do to discover the truth of something – whether it’s a book or the words someone says – is to first of all forget entirely about truth. Just let the text speak for itself. Actually come to know what it is you are seeking to ascertain the truth value of.

After you have suspended your disbelief, given the same honour you give to Hollywood to the text do you begin to think about truth. Do you look to see if the text corresponds with what it is a text about. First read as fiction and figure out if it is true or not.

This applies to people as well; especially to people. We should give our friends and family the same honour we give to fiction.

I think one of the basic conditionings we are given is to immediately dismiss what people are saying without even hearing it properly. We use the claim that it’s not true or that you can’t be certain.

It shows itself to be stupid because in order to make any of these claims you are using to dismiss or not listen to statements you first have to listen to them!

Knowing the truth

The problem is that everybody is looking for a crutch. You know something to do the thinking for them.

Even if you say the truth and think the truth but you are saying it or thinking it from the words of someone else and that is your basis for believing it or knowing it you don’t really know it.

I could describe to you a tree that someone else saw and described to me. You could take this description to that tree, actually see the tree and say to me “Yes your description is true” But if I ain’t seen the tree I ain’t seen the tree no matter how true or accurate my description may be.

 

It is because very few people have real knowledge that they are so manipulable. They have no centre, no foundation but are instead tossed around by pretty sounding paragraphs. Tricked into thinking that they believe stuff they become dupes that perpetuate their own suffering.

 

When you really know something you aren’t concerned with whether others know it too. What they think about what you know simply doesn’t matter because you know that the truth is what it is and it doesn’t give a fuck about what you think.

Empirical reality is an ink-blot

I am often shocked by how people use empiricism to back the claim that there is no god.

Now here I am neither arguing for or against “god” whatever that may mean to you. I think it’s an incredibly complex subject not least because that term is used to designate vastly different concepts in different cultures.

For example the monotheistic religions criticize the polytheistic religions by first projecting upon them their own concept of God as being omnipotent.

To sum up my own stance I would use the word shifting. I find that my views on this subject have yet to reach a state of solidness and staidness like my views on free-will have.

Anyway back to the subject.

Empiricism is the belief that all that can be known, that all that is known, is reducible to sensory phenomena.

To bring in an allegory: The Rorschach test.

In this test a subject is presented with an ink-blot on a piece of paper and asked what he sees. Someone may say things like “A couple copulating” or “A parent beating a kid” or even “Just a blob”. Any answer given to the tester is an interpretation. The ink-blot is none of these things no matter how close the semblance may be.

Now reality (and here I mean reality in the empirical sense: that is the contents of sensory experience) is exactly like an ink-blot. There are just colours, sounds, touch-sensations, smells and tastes. Nothing else.

Now take the question: What causes these sensations? The answer will necessarily not be a sensation. That is the answer cannot be empirical.

A similar paradox is shown in the verification principle with the question: can the verification principle (that is the standard we use to verify claims) itself be verified? Obviously not.

The exact same thing is happening when you ask the question what causes empirical reality? That is what produces the contents of experience?

Now atheism is a belief concerning the non-empirical reality. It states that it is a totally natural, non-intelligent thing. This is utterly unverifiable given the contents of experience and nothing but the contents of experience just as the opposite claim that there is a conscious, intelligent producer for empirical reality is equally unverifiable given the same criteria for verification.

That is to say that atheism – though a negative – never-the-less says something with positive content concerning the reality exterior to experience. Which is why I see it as just another religion.

Everyone Understands Everything

I know this sounds like an extreme statement but I believe I can show you that you understand everything.

Let’s take a biggie to demonstrate: What happens after you die?

I think this is a question most people would claim to not understand.

In answer to this question there are a couple of answers I can come up with. We could wake up in heaven, there could be nothing, it could be hell, or a shifting of awareness from the individual to the universal.

I don’t know which one is the case but each of them I understand and so do you.

This shows us that when we use the word understand we haven’t been pure in how we use it. Instead we have mixed up in it concepts like certainty or knowing which understanding is the correct one.

Some may say that we don’t understand these answers because we can’t conceive of them. This is a bit like the claim that we can’t understand infinity.

We can clearly understand infinity because we can perform maths with it and make statements about it. Whether or not any of these understandings of infinity are “correct” (which means nothing less than that they are the correct expression of what is actually the case (where-ever you want to place that actuality)) is irrelevant to what I’m getting at. There will be a correct answer and because it is an answer you will be able to understand it.

But aside from this the claim that you don’t understand a thing if you can’t visualize it or imagine it is clearly refuted by number.

What is the number “2”? It isn’t the symbol because II and 10 are all symbols for the same thing.

It isn’t any quantity of objects you imagine. This is because 2 can be said of any couple of objects irrespective of what they are. That is to say that in any attempt to locate 2 in any 2 objects will fail because 2 is not an object that can be seen.

But to bring it to point, the fact is we all clearly understand numbers because we use them. A mathematician may have a richer or more explicit understanding but you who are not a mathematician still understand it at a fundamental level.

To demonstrate this imagine changing the lengths and angles of a triangle in your mind. You can do this and you’ll see the triangle changing in a certain way. You may not even be aware that you are aware of the relation of angles and lengths but you are and that understanding or relation is demonstrated in the imagined triangles.

All that a mathematician does is try to pin this understanding down into a statement or equation that it is easier to do work with.

But just as a mathematician knows he has the correct equation because he can produce many triangles from those equations so you too can produce many triangles in your mind all of which will conform to the laws of triangles and this demonstrates that at a very fundamental level you understand triangles.

So we may not yet know that we understand everything but that’s only because we haven’t been aware of everything. But any answer to any question is going to be intelligible because it is an answer, because that is what an answer is.

Openness and Intelligence

I think a good definition for the range of capacities we call intelligence would be openness.

Let’s say that intelligence is the capacity to assimilate new information; to learn facts and understand lots of different things.

If we define intelligence as that then openness is certainly synonymous with intelligence; or rather you might be able to say that “all intelligence is openness but not all openness is intelligence” though I’m uncertain about that proposition.

But intelligence also includes the ability to solve puzzles and this seems to me to be a different phenomena from the intelligence I characterized above.

But let us say that intelligence is the capacity to solve puzzles.

This would include engineering, physics and mathematics.

Really all that engineering is is the activity of solving puzzles; you have a set of objects (rubber, petrol, cogs etc) and a function you want to perform without man-power (the solution to the puzzle).

In this sense computer-programming is engineering.

Even this kind of intelligence requires an openness.

I think the idiom used to convey this openness is “thinking outside the box”.

The person approaches a problem that requires a solution and the more open they are the more likely they are to spot the solution.

Whereas if they rigidly stick to their pre-conceptions about the problem and if these pre-conceptions are wrong or not conducive to solving the problem the less likely they are to solve the problem.

So I would say that openness is at the least a defining feature of both these definitions of intelligence.

Philosophy is a Source of Delight; not a source of Depression

I don’t understand why so many philosophers are depressed; or how the idea of a tortured genius has attached itself so ardently to the idea of philosophy.

Nietzsche’s probably most to blame for this image. But his madness could have been the result of syphilis or some other conditions.

This image of the philosopher as a tortured genius or a madman has made people wary of philosophy.

Luckily most people don’t really know what philosophy is. Most people think it’s something to do with reading lots of difficult books and thinking hard. They have a very indefinite idea of what philosophy is.

Of course philosophy is many things; like what Wittgenstein is trying to say about language and how you can’t just say it is a simple thing philosophy is a set of thought-games (empirical activity, phenomenology, epistemology, metaphysics and so on).

Due to the fact that people don’t really know what philosophy is they are blissfully unaware that they are philosophizing during their deepest and most fulfilling conversations.

For me philosophy is a source of delight.

I love the way that reading what other philosophers have thought makes my own thought life flourish.

For me philosophy is an ever present activity to engage in that doesn’t cause suffering.

A way of thinking other than the normal worries and re-runs of past failures. You know the “Oh, she doesn’t like me!”, “I don’t have enough money!” and of course “My room is a terrible mess and I really ought to clean it!”

The more I delve into philosophy the more wondrous life becomes.

Everyday things that I would normally take for granted, dismiss out of hand as being trivial, and boring because of their familiarity – such as language – become these awesome landscapes that radically change with the slightest shift of perspective.

I think the reason why so many philosophers do get depressed and become miserable isn’t because of the activity itself but because the kind of mind that altruistically philosophizes is the kind of mind that thinks a lot and sometimes those kinds of minds can get stuck in depressive feed-back loops.

That is to say that the depression and the altruistic philosophizing have the same ground. That the one does not cause the other rather they are both caused by the same thing.