Friday 12 June 2015

The metaphysical task: to know the truth of imagination by personal revelation, by impression.

Continuing from:

People may feel that imagination is true, but their inability to explain this, or their inability to accept the explanations, blocks them from engagement with the world - consigns them to alienation and despair.

There is a general need for people to re-examine their metaphysical assumptions!


Current mainstream metaphysics is that we only 'know' what we know because of evidence; but it does not take much thought to recognize that this is false - e.g. because evidence does not play much of a part in beliefs, especially the most motivating and profound beliefs;  and anyway, this begs the question of what counts as evidence?

For example, some Christians base their belief on the evidence of the Bible, but many non-Christians simply do not regard the Bible as evidence at all. One man's utterly convincing evidence is written-off by another as anecdote, delusion, or nothing to do with the case.


The modern problem can be framed as that our subjective experience is cut-off from the objective world of public discourse. When we are not being distracted (by social life, work, the mass media) and become self-aware; we feel ourselves to exist in a state of isolation where we doubt even our own thoughts.

There are two unsatisfactory possibilities for modern man - What we think subjectively in our heads is regarded as real but not true; what is forced-upon-us objectively from the public real is regarded as true but not real.

Modern Man oscillates between these two kinds of alienation - either overwhelmed by the crushing but meaningless weight of the public world, or retreating into the imagination, but with this escape negated by the conviction that it is a made-up fantasy.

The only answer - the metaphysical task - seems to be to go back and re-examine the assumptions that led us into this dead end.


Where do we start? Anywhere.

How do we tackle it? A piece at a time.

What do we do? Work from imagination - start with what is real - then evaluate what is true.

But, but, but- how does this escape logic, evidence, argument and all the other futile stuff which got us into this situation in the first place?

Well, the new thing we are doing is that we recognize that metaphysics is different. It is not a kind of science. And the philosophy of metaphysics can only come into action after the metaphysics is in place.

So what we are seeking is wordless, imageless impressions - we are seeking to feel the truth and reality, before we (very imperfectly) try to articulate it to ourselves, or communicate. We must, indeed, draw this distinction within our own thoughts: 1. This is the impression I feel, the conviction, the motivation... 2. Now I will try to articulate it.


For example, we want to ask if our current understanding is adequate, or our current plans are correct? The thoughts are focused, the mind is calmed and opened to an answer... an answer comes, it is recognized as an answer, we know the answer - it is being felt as an impression of some sort. Now we can try to articulate the answer, if we wish.

This is how we know God (as our loving Father) to be both real and true, if we do indeed know this. We ask, and we receive an answer. If we are unsure about what we have received, we ask again. If we think we have misunderstood, we ask several related questions to check.

If we have not asked, or if we asked and did not receive an answer - then we do not (yet) know.


The greatest difficulty is probably attaining the necessary state of mind to receive such impressions - the second problem is failing to recognize when we have received an answer because we expect the answer to be in words, pictures, as a sign or something.

We fail to recognize that a direct answer is simply a pure answer, without anything else, the sense of now knowing.

On this basis bad metaphysics may be challenged, good metaphysics may be built - piece by piece. 



Rich said...

Thanks for this, Bruce! Tackling metaphysics is no easy task yet, you've made it all the more comprehensible with a few short posts. Beautiful!

ajb said...

At the risk of beating a dead horse ...

"evidence does not play much of a part in beliefs, especially the most motivating and profound beliefs"

Why would one not say these impressions are a kind of possible evidence?

One can then investigate whether the impressions are giving one accurate knowledge.

For example, if my impression contradicts someone else's impression, how is that resolved?

What sorts of results do these impressions lead to - do they give knowledge that is actionable, or not?

And so on.

We have all sorts of intuitions or impressions which seem direct.

For example, that there is a cat in front of me on the road is not something I infer - I simply see the cat. It 'feels' direct. Yet, I can then test that belief by checking if it corroborates with other evidence - does the person next to me see the cat as well? Is the cat causing the leaves of grass to move as it steps? Does its gait seem typical of a cat? And so on.

"and anyway, this begs the question of what counts as evidence?"

You state this question as if we live in a vacuum - a kind of cognitive blank slate where we can choose any interpretation of evidence we'd like. We don't live in this sort of state. We are usually faced with a couple, or several, competing theories about how to interpret evidence.

There are virtues to theories - elegance (Ockham's Razor), coherence, intelligibility, and so on. This is difficult and complex, but that doesn't mean that one can choose whatever basis for counting something as evidence that one would like. People recognize certain reasons for choosing one theory over another as *bad* reasons.

The distinction between accepting something because it's in the Gospels or not is based on prior, differing interpretations of evidence. These aren't arbitrary. Again, one can have dialogue about which of these is the right interpretation, based on common criteria. The parties might disagree about which theory is correct, but that typically comes down to different exposure to evidence, different abilities to see consequences of certain premises, and so on.

Bruce Charlton said...

@ajb - I am talking about the start - not the whole thing.

But you just aren't getting the distinction between metaphysics and 'science'/ observation/ experience etc.

ajb said...

We all 'start' in media res.

There is no clear-cut epistemic distinction between core or basic ('metaphysical') beliefs and science, observation, experience, and so on. They are caught up in-each-other.

tgj said...

Where did it all go wrong? Almost at the very beginning.

Where did it all go wrong for you and for me? At the very beginning. You started wrong before you even knew you were you.

Where does it go right? When you get on the way, the path, that has been established from the very beginning for the salvation of those who would go wrong, or start wrong.

When did the culture, the environment, the surroundings, the people that you know, their way of thinking, their whole means of grasping reality go wrong? About the turn of the millennium, when they left the way and forgot about it.

Can you think your way back? Can you feel your way back? Can you reconstruct the way? No. You have to find the people who never left it and you have to do what they are doing. You have to do as they instruct. To rely on yourself, your own mind, your own perceptions about how to receive revelation, is fatal.

Instructions include: Do not use the imagination, because Christ did not have imagination. Imagination is a flaw in our perception and understanding that allows it to depart from reality. You feel like it is a departure from reality because it is. The way of salvation exists only in reality. It's just not one that you recognize as the way, because you are trying to build something else in your imagination. But the way of salvation does not exist in anyone's imagination.

The devil is a painter, and artist. He paints in the imagination with the paints of sensations, feelings, thoughts, all the things you already know and nothing of God. He reaches in through the flaws, in the gaps in your perception of reality. He encourages fantasy. He wants you to strain for what is sensual, to break it down and rearrange it into something with even less connection to spiritual reality. He wants you to think that the things that exist only in your own mind are real, the only reality. Not just sensations, but the sensations that you already know. The sensations of yourself, and no one else. The delusion of grasping something outside of yourself by means of self-absorption, then trying to make it real by tricking other people into believing that it is worth trying to get it into their own heads. That is how you contact him and receive his "revelations." He is not God. He is a liar, the father of lies, imagining that he could do what only God can do, a murderer from the beginning.

Do you want to perceive reality clearly, truly, without imagination? Follow the commandments. Follow the way. Follow Christ. Do not try to make something better. You will fail. Do not try to reconstruct it on your own. You will fail. Find it. Find the people who are doing it, who have done it. Do what they do. They exist, they live. They always have and they always will. They aren't imagining things. They know what is real and what is not. They know that salvation is real, and that metaphysical systems constructed in a mind that cares nothing for following what has been revealed, verified, and lived by the saints cannot save you or anyone else.

I, who does not do this, tell you to do this. We think we are great thinkers, when in reality we are paralytics who are seconds away from choking and dying on our own spit, which we cannot swallow ourselves and are therefore expectorating into the mouths of others, who we envy because they are less paralyzed than we are.

Bruce Charlton said...

@tgj - If that type of Christianity is effective for you then stick to it.

It has only been a path of a tiny minority of good Christians through history, and it is much harder now - because the main churches, and especially their leaders, are so corrupt and 'society' is hostile; and self-identified Christianity is an ageing, mostly female, micro-minority religion among native Westerners.

(However, some of the real Christian groups, those who have been least corrupted by secular Leftism, although a small and even declining minority (not least due to mass immigration), are bucking that demographic trend with above-replacement fertility and a high proportion of men.)

But I am quite serious that those who find your path to be what they need should find it and stick with it.

However, although it is a real and valid path; it is not the only path - I personally would not regard it as the best path, because it is so partial. However, sometimes partiality is what is necessary. Any Christianity should be welcomed at present.

In sum: *this blog* is aimed-at a different kind of person than yourself - who might become (or already is) a different kind of Christian!

Heaviside said...

“We must not take the faculty of imagination as the middle term that gets inserted between an existing absolute subject and an absolute existing world. The productive imagination must rather be recognized as what is primary and original, as that out of which subjective Ego and objective world first sunder themselves into the necessarily bipartite appearance and product, and as the sole In-Itself. This power of imagination is the original two-sided identity. The identity becomes subject in general on one side, and object on the other; but originally it is both. And the imagination is nothing but Reason itself, the Idea of which was determined above. But it is only Reason as it appears in the sphere of empirical consciousness."

Seijio Arakawa said...


In your suggestion there is the slight problem that if I cannot trust my discernment on any question, I cannot trust my discernment in choosing the right teachers to follow; since I can know nothing, I am merely picking teachers at random (at best, and more likely I am picking teachers to coddle all of the vices I am not yet conscious of in myself). In reading this and that group's claims and determining who is and is not the Church I am mostly digging through the increasingly elaborate bickerings of the various factions of people pronouncing anathema on each other. This contemplation of other people's sins is doubly useless when I should first be considering my own.

You may say that God has not seen fit to send a suitable teacher my way -- in that case I can only pray in the way I decide is best based on what I've seen so far. You may say that deciding things for myself is prideful -- but what else can I do in this situation? If I decide not to ever decide anything, that is also a decision.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Ara - Yes, and although the argument always applies, this is a particular problem for the modern convert.

I also found it impossible to find any actual living people who seemed to be so obviously holy as to be worthy of absolute trust - I mean holy in the traditional Eastern Catholic type of way - this also seems to be a particular aspect of modernity.

Hence, the metaphysical task. This, I think, has-to be the start - although it is not the end.

Seijio Arakawa said...

That said, I would agree with tgj's comment to the extent that finding Christianity is more a question of finding people than of sorting through doctrines. Thus, figuring things out is not based on the details of apologetics and highfaluting theory, but of the feeling received from talking people. Are they trustworthy or cunning? At peace or in turmoil? No logical teaching is really convincing or proven until you see it bear fruit in people, even in whatever partial and half-hearted application.

And I would still disagree to the extent of saying that some level of feeling has to be sought for and trusted. I think, above all else, God brings peace (even in the most extreme self-dismay and upheaval) and the devil brings turmoil and confusion (whatever semblance of outward beauty it may be accompanied by). Any person has vacillated even a little on this spectrum in their lifetime, thus has a point of comparison as to which actions (past, present, or future) bring them closer to peace and God and which take them further away. On the other hand if it is impossible to distinguish between these two states, it is not worth bothering with anything at all.

That said, I am making a guess based on current experience -- I can only vouch for what I've attempted myself.

David said...

Perhaps of interest to readers in relation to historical and philosophical perspectives on the imagination:

David said...

Having now listened to this talk it seems neither of the panel, know what Imagination is, and assume that at some point it will be a 'ring - fenced' area of the brain we can point at and say 'look, there it is! That is the bit of the brain that *does* imagination!' The level of delusion of the intellectual elite is quite frightening when one considers that metaphysics is the bottom - line, and depending on the assumptions one chooses, the results of the arguement is framed by the assumptions and the usual implausable or impoverished conclusions are trotted out by a so-called panel of *expert* academics to reach forfeit or mute points. They seem like mice trapped in the maze of their own lack of imagination or blind leading the blind. Anyone who has seen anything worth seeing needs to tap into the *reality* of imagination before moving forward. One has to be able to imagine that God exists before he or she can believe it, imagine that they can become better people and achieve spiritual growth or theosis before it can be so, imagine a potters wheel can be turned on its side before it can drive a cart as a wheel. It seems abundantly clear: Imagination is the spark that lights the fire of creation for God's, Angels or men. A lack of imagination is a clear marker of evil in the application of ideology e.g. inflexible Marxist or totalitarian states of the 20th Century, of the evils of bureaucracy. Imagination is a powerful gift from God to be used (as a tool of theosis) or abused at our peril. When Christianity errs with legalism or inflexible literalism, it seems to me that a lack of imagination becomes a danger. We need imagination to breath life into scripture; without it we only have meaningless words on paper, no wisdom or metaphorical depth can be gleamed from it without *imagination* and *metaphysics.*

I don't think I would get invited onto 'in out time' with these points of view however :-)