Friday, 15 September 2017

Discussion with a correspondent about Primary Thinking - an exchange of e-mails

What follows is a recent exchange of e-mails between myself and A Correspondent - in which he makes some excellent and clarifying points on the nature of Primary Thinking. I hope this may help others who are working-through this vital theme...

**

My Correspondent: If primary thinking is certainly true (not just hypothesis), and if it is free, then it seems to follow that it is literally creative. If it is free, it need not conform itself to the world; but if it is true, then there is nevertheless a correspondence between what is thought and what actually exists. There can be no necessary correspondence without some sort of causal relationship, and if primary thinking is not caused by external facts, then the inescapable conclusion (if, given what I have just said about the freedom of thought, I may be permitted the phrase) is that the causation runs the other way: external facts conform themselves to thoughts. Primary thinking creates the world.

My first thought was to call that a reductio ad absurdum and reject the whole "primary thinking" model, but on second thought I think it has to be accepted. After all, theism requires some such concept in order to make sense of God's role as creator. We can hardly imagine that God created the world by physically moving matter around with some kind of construction equipment; rather, he created everything by his "word" or logos. And what is possible for God is possible in a general sense -- and, if we are his children, possible for us.

[In Mormon doctrine, it is said] that Adam helped create the earth, but that when he entered mortality he forgot that fact. And when Adam fell, the earth fell with him. Did God deliberately wreck his own creation as a way of punishing Adam -- or was the world in some way directly dependent on Adam's thoughts, Adam's state of mind? The knowledge of evil came first, and the existence of evil followed. And of course Adam, the prototypical man whose name simply means "Man," represents all of us.

(Is "faith" primary thinking? It, too, is supposed to be both free and true. In the New Testament, faith can make you whole, enable you to walk on water, and cast mountains into the sea -- in other words, the external world changes to conform itself to true faith.)

One problem with this idea is that it threatens to destroy the re-ality ("thingishness") of the world by making it wholly dependent on thought -- a hallucination, essentially. Without something that exists independently of our own thoughts there is, it seems, no world. Another problem is the question of how the thoughts of potentially billions of different primary-thinkers interact to create the one world we presumably share -- and what it is about God's thoughts that make them uniquely powerful, making him "the" creator. But I suppose the second problem offers a solution to the first. The reality of the world comes from its being the production of many minds, and not of mine alone.


Myself: That is my understanding too. We seem to have reached the same place, more or less.

I have found Steiner vital for this, mostly the early three books on Goethe's conception, the PhD thesis, and the Philosophie der Freiheit (variously translated) - but I only came across a dense and inspiring summary of his early philosophical work yesterday - in the following introduction to a book from 1900:

http://wn.rsarchive.org/Books/GA007/English/GA007_Intro.html

"One problem with this idea is that it threatens to destroy the re-ality ("thingishness") of the world by making it wholly dependent on thought -- a hallucination, essentially. Without something that exists independently of our own thoughts there is, it seems, no world. "

Not quite. There is a world - a world of raw phenomena, without meaning. There really are things, and we really sense them - but without 'concepts' (which we provide, in thinking) nothing means anything, then nothing could or would add up to anything (our experience would be of a blooming, buzzing confusion, to quote William James).

"Another problem is the question of how the thoughts of potentially billions of different primary-thinkers interact to create the one world we presumably share -- and what it is about God's thoughts that make them uniquely powerful, making him "the" creator."

My understanding is that this makes sense only if it is real/ true thoughts and creations that affect this 'one world' (the world of universal reality). I can't see that it could be reality if it was affected by wrong/ false/ evil thoughts from billions of people - so I assume it is only affected by true/ correct/ good thoughts of people engaged in primary thinking. Perhaps most people, most of the time have zero connection with this real world, and never influence it in any way - while others have interacted significantly.

Another factor is perspective. It seems that part of this view is that in primary thinking we only grasp, but we DO grasp, a corner of reality. This would seem to imply why it is 'a good thing' to have many, many people going on-and-on thinking, and creating, reality - multiple perspectives, so that universal reality becomes more rich and dense, without any end.

That's about as far as I have reached, so far.


My Correspondent: I think we have to go quite a bit further than just saying that thinking gives meaning to existing phenomena. Of course we are free to conceptualize given phenomena in this way or that -- James somewhere uses the example of a hexagram, which can be conceptualized either as two interlocking triangles or as six triangles touching at their corners -- but this is not the true creativity required by thinking which is both free and true. Above and beyond investing phenomena with meaning, primary thinking must be capable of altering the phenomena themselves. Simon actually acquired, by thought alone, the physical ability to walk on water, not merely to interpret his sinking as meaningful. And God is the creator, not the mere interpreter, of the world.

I lean toward thinking of the world of raw, meaningless phenomena as being an effect, rather than a precondition, of primary thinking. The "raw" world may be meaningless in the same sense that a hundred different voices speaking simultaneously produce a meaningless cacophony. The unintended interaction of various meaningful primary thoughts may yield a meaningless hodgepodge. Forging this into a harmony (not a unison!) is the work of creation.

I agree with you that it must be only thoughts that are in some sense "true" that affect the world. The question is what "true" means in this context. It can't have the ordinary meaning of correspondence with pre-existing facts; that would make it impossible for true thoughts to change anything, since their truth would consist in merely reflecting what already existed. It seems we must work out an alternative answer to Pilate's question.

A post of yours that I keep returning to in my thoughts is the one about Hobbes and whether or not he is "really" alive. If we could understand how and in what sense Hobbes is invested with real life (and I certainly accept that he is so invested), I think we would be one step closer to understanding primary or creative thought.


Myself: Corrections accepted, you're right.

My first thought about what is true, is that which conforms with, is compatible with, God's (already in existence) plan of creation.

Maybe this truth could be defined by motivation... by Love?