Monday, 15 January 2018

Direct knowing compared with perception, feelings and abstract models

I think we need a metaphysics of direct knowing - so we may escape from the incoherent, self-contradicting, auto-destruction that is modern metaphysics.

(We need not feel guilty of 'wishful thinking' when we reject an inadequate and nonsensical metaphysics! This is something our culture ought to have done 200 years ago, and only eight generations of inattention and inadequate concentration has defended the absolute garbage that passes for 'scientific' or 'rational' or 'realistic' thinking in modern, mainstream public discourse.)

The physical world we learn of by sensory perception - and this imposes itself upon us: perceptions happen-to-us, and we are therefore passive in relation to them. Nonetheless, we also know that sensory perceptions are unreliable (we experience illusions, misinterpretaions, hallucinations etc), and differ between individuals (and within one person, over time) - so sensory perception cannot be a fundamental basis for life.

The world of the body is known by feelings - that is, by our awareness of emotions (emotions being our brain's monitoring of inner body states). Feelings also impose upon us - like perceptions, we are over-whelmed by feelings - we are (mostly) passive in face of feelings. Yet we know that feelings are evanescent - they fade, they change, they are different between different people at different times - feelings cannot be a fundamental basis for life.

Currently, the mainstream highest conscious understanding of things; and the basis for public discourse, is abstract models. Abstract models are simplified and selective simulations of reality - and they are the currency of what passes-for rationality - I mean such word-concepts as the ideals of equality, happiness, suffering; education, wealth, violence; health, justice, virtue... And the models used in managment, science, law, the military etc. In public discourse such abstractions are given 'operational definitions' which we know-for-sure are incomplete/ biased/ wrong... but we treat abstract models asif real because (we are assured) there is nothing else.

(Modern public discourse is intrinsically coercive: based on compulsory assertion that TINA... There Is No Alternative - i.e. no alternative is allowed, no alternative will be taken seriously, any proposed alternative will simply be ignored - the current abstract model is mandatory.)

Thus it is facile to demonstrate that all the current, available bases for public discourse, for Life, are certainly-wrong, and lack any coherent basis - except for the assertion that there is nothing else better.

But there Is something else better; there is a coherent metaphysics which could serve as a solid basis for Life, and for public discourse - which is that there is a single reality that we can each of us know directly.

By directly I mean unmediated - and not by a chain of unreliable perceptions, or by contingent feelings, or by means of incomplete biased models.

Direct, in fact, entails identity - to know directly universal single reality, entails that the knower is (to that extent) joined-with and becomes a part-of that reality. Direct knowledge entails participation in reality... (And this is where Owen Barfield's term comes from.)  

Participation is not with the whole-of reality - but a part of it (real and direct - but partial - participation) ... Thus our direct knowing is real, but (extremely) incomplete and biased... that is, direct knowing is partial, and that partiality is not a microcosm of the whole.

So we have the possibility (by definition, by metaphysical assumption) of real knowledge of reality - real truth; but incomplete and distorted... But over time our knowledge of truth can get greater and we can learn more of the context hence increase its representativeness.

We have a personal perspective, and we have had limited experience; therefore we do not have all truth about everything - and to know fully any specific truth requires knowledge of how it fits into everything...

Different individuals will grasp different portions of the total reality from different perspectives, and with different degrees of completeness - hence disagreement between individuals is to be expected. But over time, individuals will tend (spontaneously) to converge on the single true reality.

Furthermore; although our knowledge may direct and correct, when we communicate this knowedge to others we are back in the realms of perceptions, feelings and abstractions - and this is another source of inter-individual disagreement. 

The above coherent metaphysics is possible - but it cannot be forced upon anybody; it must be chosen.

Metaphysical assumptions cannot ever be proven - they are assumptions (and assumptions are necessary for proof).

Metaphysical assumptions are not supported by evidence, so don't look for any! Because they are assumptions (and assumptions are necessary to define the nature and status of evidence).

So we must choose to assume metaphysics - and when we are contradicting the metaphysics that we have unconsciously-absorbed from society and unthinkingly reproduce - then we must consciously choose our metaphysical assumptions.

This seems strange - it may seem bogus. Because perceptions, and feelings force-themselves upon us - and we are used to being compelled to accept abstract models on the basis that 'there is no alternative' - it seems artificial, contrived, dubious for us consciously to choose-to-assume the fundamental basis of our reality; to assume the nature of reality.

But that is what we must do if we want to have a coherent metaphysics. 

Direct knowing is active, not passive; it is individual not groupish; its objectivity (sameness between individuals) is a product of multiple individual increases in knowing - as they spontaneously converge on the underlying singleness of reality.

When there is (honest and well-motivated) disagreement, the answer is simple: all individuals should attain more knowledge - because as individuals attain more knowledge, they will agree more.

And because communication is inherently indirect; there is an important sense in which each of us must (sooner or later) learn and know for himself.

The future is individual, the future entails greater knowledge, the future is chosen... it is more-and-more conscious. And it is unbounded - since (form our individual finite perspective, and with finite experience) there is always more to know.

Such a Life is intrinsically-creative - because to know is to participate, and all knowing is individual.


lgude said...

This post reminds me of how naturally resistant I am to being told there is 'nothing else'. Perhaps I may be deluded but I just never could accept Kant's assertion that we could never know the thing as such. Whatever you think of Kant I take you to mean that we can indeed know the thing as such. Directly. And it has always been obvious to me for some reason that St Paul was right when he said 'we shall know even as also we are known." I've felt strongly that was true ever since I nutted out what 'Through a glass darkly' meant when I was a kid. I'm not conscious of making metaphysical assumptions when I have that kind of reaction - positive or negative - but I believe it is something very close to what you mean by primary thinking and direct knowing. My favourite discussion of metaphysics is Robert M Pirsig's in Lila. I suspect your milage may vary on that one, but he is the only modern philosophers I genuinely enjoy reading. Another philosophic problem I could never accept as real is the old saw about tree falling in a forest. I grew up in real forest and often found huge fallen trees in the spring after the snow had gone. I hadn't heard them fall and probably no human did, but the squirrels sure heard them! But it was Bishop Berkeley who I read fairly recently on the subject who said - "God hears it". To which I say : YES, and that is all that really matters.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Igude - I have never been interested in or impressed by Kant - indeed, my overall view of philosophy (as philosophy) is that the field progressively fell to pieces from Aquinas onward. i.e. if you want ot base you life on philosophy (which I don't) then you ought to base it on Aquinas, for reasons given by Alasdair MacIntyre in After Virtue (for example).

re: Pirsig - I very much like Zen and the Art as a book, although it argues for a kind of Pragmatism; but I did not enjoy Lila, so never could get to grips with its philosophical arguments. But they were a half way house (omitting God) so I know I would not find them adequate.

MultiplayerMario64 said...
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Chiu ChunLing said...

"Because perceptions, and feelings force-themselves upon us - and we are used to being compelled to accept abstract models on the basis that 'there is no alternative' - it seems artificial, contrived, dubious for us consciously to choose-to-assume the fundamental basis of our reality; to assume the nature of reality."

I think that more than just the environmental factors, the basic nature of humans is in play here. Yes, experience and Zeitgeist conspire to make us leery of simply choosing our metaphysics, but that is because for humans it is not a matter of what you believe so much as whom. Humans are generally not survival fit as individuals by virtue of adequate problem-solving intellect, only a tiny percentage have that ability and only a fraction of those are entirely survival fit in other ways. Humans are social because the vast majority cannot survive without a working community, and even those who can have a thin time of it. From a purely logical standpoint this is a highly dubious and regrettable state of affairs, because it continuously raises the issue of appeals to authority.

But from a religious perspective it should trouble us little as long as we acknowledge that God, the source of the possibility of Direct Participation, is Personal, and our choice to accept or reject His authority is therefor also intensely personal.