Saturday, 7 May 2016
Ingwaz - the metaphysics of '-ing', of polarity
Barfield focuses on the term polarity, derived from Coleridge - but I have found that this term - with its inner picture of a solid, rectangular bar magnet - is making it harder for me to grasp and use. The essence of the concept is not its having poles but that it is a dynamic process, an active thing: an -ing, as in think-ing, reason-ing, understand-ing, and imagin-ing.For me this philosophy only makes sense if I regard reality as happen-ing.
So I have decided to replace polarity with '-ing' which is the name and sound of a rune - more often called Ingwaz (and of a Norse god, also called Freyr - not the same as Freya). So the rune Ingwaz can serve me as a symbol of 'polarity', in my notetaking.
Like most good metaphysics, Ingwaz comes from the solid, primary, necessary intuition that we are thinking. From this comes the inference that whatever we think, do, know or whatever - thinking is involved. There is no way of getting-at any objective reality that does not involve thinking - it is nonsense (makes no sense) to be thinking there is an objective realm of 'facts' that are autonomous from thinking.
However, this is NOT the 'idealism' of stating that there is only mind, and 'reality' is an illusion; what is being stated is that thinking is involved in everything - therefore, everything includes thinking. The thinking cannot be detached from anything, thinking is always involved in everything.
So the division of inner mind and outer reality/ nature is nonsense; we are always and inevitably involved in everything we ever consider by thinking.
However, this thinking can be (usually is) something of which we are unaware. We therefore tend (unthinkingly) to regard the 'outside' world as if it was independent of our thinking. We tend to suppose that the outside world is real and solid, while our thinking (which is reality is involved in everything we know or imagine about that outside world) is merely ephemeral and pointless.
This is because if we divide thinking from the outside world, thinking dies - it becomes static, inert, it stops '-ing' and is a mere dead specimen ('thought'). What is really happening is that we have started thinking about a situation where there is no thinking, and are unaware that in thinking this we have not actually imagined a situation where there is no thinking - we are merely unaware of the thinking that is engaged in imagining it!
This is the modern condition. Modern analysis is unaware of - and denies - the pervasiveness of thinking at all times and in all situations. This state of unthinking doubt about thinking can be called cynicism.
So, the first move is to become aware of our own thinking in any and every situation - to recognize that everything involves thinking - we are therefore always engaged with everything, involved with everything: there is no objective alienation.
But is thinking valid? That is the fear that haunts cynical, nihilistic modern man. The fear is that - even though it makes no sense and cannot be done to use thinking to doubt the validity of thinking; maybe thinking is not valid anyway - maybe we just live in an un-avoidable delusion? The idea accepts that it makes no sense to be thinking about thinking being 'unreliable' - but maybe that is true anyway!
This cynicism, I believe, is the modern condition; it is a fear rather than a philosophy, it is a cynical suspicion that there is really no purpose, meaning or reality - and this state was facilitated by Natural Selection which seems to have 'discovered' that that is how nature works. This is untrue, and makes no sense; but the effect is rather to implant a fear, a suspicion that it might all be a delusion than to make any kind of logical point.
That has been the point at which Western thought has been stuck for more than 200 years - the fear that everything we think we know about everything comes from thinking, and that thinking - the very basis of knowing itself - might be a circular system of unavoidable but nonetheless false assumptions.
This places Man into an existential state where he does not know where to start in escaping. Once he has come to doubt thinking, then he cannot get out. All he can do is try to manipulate his emotions so as to feel better, here and now.
In fact this sense of existential nakedness is the perfect basis and understanding and clarity for feeling the necessity and reality of religious faith - which is trust - and only a loving God can be trusted... So the modern condition points to Christianity in a clearer way than anything ever has done.
(Kierkegaard probably said this too - but I can't read enough of him to be sure, and if he did say it, then he has usually been misunderstood or at least ignored.)
But the actual modern condition is an incomplete state of doubt - therefore it does not compel Christianity. The modern condition is a combination of doubt and arbitrary faith - which is so perfectly engineered to create despair, so perfectly being constantly adjusted to maintain this sense of hope-less-ness, that it implies the modern situation is a product of purposive evil (i.e. of demonic influence).
Because modern Man is not cynical enough. Or, rather, the cynic is flawed by its lack of questioning - his questioninsg of superficialities and his unthinking acceptance of deep assumptions. The modern cynic (i.e. pretty much everybody) uses thinking to deny the necessary validity of thinking on some topics (sex, esepcially), but leaves intact enough unthinking to prevent him seeing the situation as it really is.
He is obsessed by some illusions of thinking - but not others, and cynical about all positive faith - but unthinking and credulous about so much else.
Modern Man will go so far as to deny even the reality of thinking-about-thinking (i.e. metaphysics) - he will state that there is no such thing as metaphysics - simply because he does not DO metaphysics (or stops himself if he happens to start thinking about his own thinking). He arbitrarily decides that thinking about thinking is meaningless nonsense - and is therefore trapped by his own despair-inducing assumptions - which would dissolve if ever recognized as involving thinking.
It is the residual unthinking 'faith' in thinking about some subjects (for example, faith in the idea that cynicism implies that hedonism is rational) which is destroying modern Man.
From here we can go back into unthinking acceptance of thinking - or forward into thinking about thinking: becoming aware that Everything necessarily involves thinking.
Thinking is process: Everything therefore includes process, and the world can only validly be analyzed into processes - analyzed into -ings and not into things.
This is, in fact, the metaphysical solution to the modern condition: the solution to alienation, purposelessness, meaninglessness, relativism and so on. Once grasped, the problem for each of us as individuals is then to make it our normal, indeed habitual, way of thinking.
Posted by Bruce Charlton at Saturday, May 07, 2016
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Bruce, thank you for your insights. I don't know for sure if you're already familiar with David Bohm's work but I'll quote here some highlights from his book 'Wholeness and the Implicate Order' that have striking parallelity with your thoughts. Feel of course free to skip publishing these as comments to your blog, I just hope you find some fruitful here:
Chapter 3.2, Thought and intelligence: "To inquire into the question of how knowledge is to be understood as process, we first note that all knowledge is produced, displayed, communicated, transformed, and applied in thought. Thought, considered in its movement of becoming (and not merely in its content of relatively well-defined images and ideas) is indeed the process in which knowledge has its actual and concrete existence. (This has been discussed in the Introduction.)
What is the process of thought? Thought is, in essence, the active response of memory in every phase of life. We include in thought the intellectual, emotional, sensuous, muscular and physical responses of memory. These are all aspects of one indissoluble process. To treat them separately makes for fragmentation and confusion. All these are one process of response of memory to each actual situation, which response in turn leads to a further contribution to memory, thus conditioning the next thought.
One of the earliest and most primitive forms of thought is, for example, just the memory of pleasure or pain, in conjunction with a visual, auditory, or olfactory image that may be evoked by an object or a situation. It is common in our culture to regard memories involving image content as separate from those involving feeling. It is clear, however, that the whole meaning of such a memory is just the conjuction of the image with its feeling, which (along with the intellectual content and the physical reaction) constitutes the totality of the judgment as to whether what is remembered is good or bad, desirable or not, etc.
It is clear that thought, considered in this way as the response of memory, is basically mechanical in its order of operation. Either it is a repetition of some previously existent structure drawn from memory, or else it is some combination arrangement and organization of these memories into further structures of ideas and concepts, categories, etc. These combinations may possess a certain kind of novelty resulting from the fortuitous interplay of elements of memory, but it is clear that such novelty is still essentially mechanical (like the new combinations appearing in a kaleidoscope).
There is in this mechanical process no inherent reason why the thoughts that arise should be relevant or fitting to he actual situation that evokes them. The perception of whether or not any particular thoughts are relevant or fitting requires the operation of an energy that is not mechanical, an energy that we shall call intelligence. This latter is able to perceive a new order or a new structure, that is not just a modification of what is already known or present in memory. For example, one may be working on a puzzling problem for a long time. Suddenly, in a flash of understanding, one may see the irrelevance of one's whole way of thinking about the problem, along with a different approach in which all the elements fit in a new order and in a new structure. Clearly, such a flash is essentially an act of perception, rather than a process of thought (a similar notion was discussed in chapter 1), though later it may be expressed in thought. What is involved in this act is perception through the mind of abstract orders and relationships such as identity and difference, separation and connection, necessity and contingency, cause and effect, etc. ...
... We have thus put together all the basically mechanical and conditioned responses of memory under one word or symbol, i.e. thought, and we have distinguished this from the fresh, original and unconditioned response of intelligence (or intelligent perception) in which something new may arise. At this point, however, one may ask: 'How can one know that such an unconditioned response is at all possible?' This is a vast question, which cannot be discussed fully here. However, it can be pointed out here that at least implicitly everybody does in fact accept the notion that intelligence is not conditioned (and, indeed, that one cannot consistently do otherwise).
Consider, for example, an attempt to assert that all of man's actions are conditioned and mechanical. Typically, such a view has taken one of two forms: Either it is said that man is basically a product of his hereditary constitution, or else that he is determined entirely by environmental factors. However, one could ask of the man who believed in hereditary determination whether his own statement asserting this belief was nothing but the product of his heredity. In other words, is he compelled by his genetic structure to make such an utterance? Similarly, one may ask of the man who believes in environmental determination, whether the assertion of such a belief is nothing but the spouting forth of words in patterns to which he was conditioned by his environment. Evidently, in both cases (as well as in the case of one who asserted that man is completely conditioned by heredity plus environment) the answer would have to be in the negative, for otherwise the speakers would be denying the very possibility that what they said could have meaning. Indeed, it is necessarily implied, in any statement, that the speaker is capable of a truth that is not merely the result of a mechanism based on meaning or skills acquired in the past. So we see that no one can avoid implying, by his mode of communication, that he accepts at least the possibility of that free, unconditioned perception that we have called intelligence.
Now there is a great deal of evidence indicating that thought is basically a material process. For example, it has been observed in a wide variety of contexts that thought is inseparable from electrical and chemical activity in the brain and nervous system, and from concomitant tensions and movements of muscles. Would one then say that intelligence is a similar process, though perhaps of a more subtle nature?
It is implied in the view we are suggesting here that this is not so. If intelligence is to be an unconditioned act of perception, its ground cannot be in structures such as cells, molecules, atoms, elementary particles, etc. Ultimately, anything that is determined by the laws of such structures must be int the field of what can be known, i.e. stored up in memory, and thus it will have to have the mechanical nature of anything that can be assimilated in the basically mechanical character of the process of thought. The actual operation of intelligence is thus beyond the possibility of being determined or conditioned by factors that can be included in any knowable law. So, we see that the ground of intelligence must be in the undetermined and unknown flux, that is also the ground of all definable forms of matter. Intelligence is thus not deducible or explainable on the basis of any branch of knowledge (e.g., physics or biology). Its origin is deeper and more inward than any knowable order that could describe it. (Indeed, it has to comprehend the very order of definable forms of matter through which we would hope to comprehend intelligence.) ...
What, then, is the relationship of intelligence to thought? Briefly, one can say that when thought functions on its own, it is mechanical and not intelligent, because it imposes its own generally irrelevant and unsuitable order drawn from memory. Thought is, however, capable of responding, not only from memory but also to the unconditioned perception of intelligence that can see, in each case, whether or not a particular line of thought is relevant and fitting.
One may perhaps usefully consider here the image of a radio receiver. When the output of the receiver 'feeds back' into the input, the receiver operates on its own, to produce mainly irrelevant and meaningless noise, but when it is sensitive to the signal on the radio wave, its own order of inner movement of electric currents (transformed into sound waves) is parallel to the order in the signal and thus the receiver serves to bring a meaningful order originating beyond the level of its own structure into movements on the level of its own structure. One might then suggest that in intelligent perception, the brain and nervous system respond directly to an order in the universal and unknown flux that cannot be reduced to anything that could be defined in terms of knowable structures.
Intelligence and material process have thus a single origin, which is ultimately the unknown totality of the universal flux. In a certain sense, this implies that what have been commonly called mind and matter are abstractions from the universal flux, and that both are to be regarded as different and relatively autonomous orders within the one whole movement. (This notion is discussed further in chapter 7.) It is thought responding to intelligent perception which is capable of bringing about an overall harmony or fitting between mind and matter."
Chapter 3.3, The thing and the thought: "Given that thought is a material process that may be relevant in some more general context when it moves in parallel with intelligent perception, one is now led to inquire into the relationship between thought and reality. Thus, it is commonly believed that the content of thought is in some kind of reflective correspondence with 'real things', perhaps being a kind of copy, or image, or imitation of thing, perhaps a kind of 'map' of thing, or perhaps (along lines similar to those suggested by Plato) a grasp of the essential and innermost forms of things.
Are any of these views correct? Or is the question itself not in need of further clarification? For it presupposes that we know what is meant by the 'real thing' and by the distinction between reality and thought. But this is just what is not properly understood (e.g., even the realtively sophisticated Kantian notion of 'thing in itself' is just as unclear as the naïve idea of 'real thing').
We may perhaps obtain a clue here by going into the origins of words such as 'thing' and 'reality. The study of origins of words may be regarded as a sort of archaeology of our thought process, in the sense that the traces of earlier forms of thought can be found by observations made in this field. As in the study of human society, clues coming from archaelogical inquiries can often help us to understand the present situation better.
Now the word 'thing' goes back to various old English words² whose significance includes 'object', 'action', 'event', 'condition', 'meeting', and is realted to words meaning 'to determine', 'to settle', and, perhaps, to 'time' or 'season'. The original meaning might thus have been 'something occuring at a given time, or under certain conditions'. (Compare to the German 'bedingen', meaning 'to make conditions', or 'to determine', which could perhaps be rendered into English as 'to bething'.) All these meanings indicate that the word 'thing' arose as a highly generalized indications of any form of existence, transitory or permanent, that is limited or determined by conditions.
What, then, is the origin of the word 'reality'? This comes form the Latin 'res', which means 'thing'. To be real is to be a 'thing'. 'Reality' in its earlier meaning would then signify 'thinghood in general' or 'the quality of being a thing'.
It is particularly interesting that 'res' comes from the verb 'reri', meaning 'to think', so that literally, 'res' is 'what is thought about'. It is of course implicit that what is thought about has an existence that is independent of the process of thought, or in other words, that while we create and sustain an idea as a mental image by this thinking about it, we do not create and sustain a 'real thing' in this way. Nevertheless, the 'real thing' is limited by conditions that can be expressed in terms of thought. Of course, the real thing has more in it than can ever be implied by the content of our thought about it, as can always be revealed by further observation. Moreover, our thought is not in general completely correct, so that the real thing may be expected ultimately to show behaviour or properties contradicting some of the implications of our thought about it. These are, indeed, among the main ways in which the real thing can demonstrate its basic independence from thought. The main indication of the relationship between thing and thought is, then, that when one thinks correctly about a certain thing, this thought can, at least up to a point, guide one's actions in relationship to that thing to produce an overall situation that is harmonious and free of contradiction and confusion. ...
... If the thing and the thought about it have their ground in the one undefinable and unknown totality of flux, then the attempt explain their relationship by supposing that the thought is in reflective correspondence with the thing has no meaning, for both thought and thing are forms abstracted from the total process. The reason why these forms are related could only be in the ground from which they arise, but there can be no way of discussing reflective correspondence in this ground, because reflective correspondence implies knowledge, while the ground is beyond what can be assimilated in the content of knowledge.
Does this mean that there can be no further insight into the relationship of thing and thought? We suggest that such further insight is in fact possible but that it requires looking at the the question in a different way. To show the orientation involved in this way, we may consider as an analogy the well-known dance of the bees, in which one bee is able to indicate the location of honey-bearing flowers to other bees. This dance is probably not to be understood as producing in the 'minds' of the bees a form of knowledge in reflective correspondence with the flowers. Rather, it is an activity which, when properly carried out, acts as a pointer or indicator, disposing the bees to an order of action that will generally lead them to the honey. This activity is not separate from the rest of what is involved in collecting the honey. It flows and merges in to the next step in an unbroken process. So one may propose for consideration the notion that thought is a sort of 'dance of the mind' which functions indicatively, and which, when properly carried out, flows and merges into an harmonious and orderly sort of overall process in life as a whole.
In practical affairs, it is fairly clear what this harmony and order mean (e.g., the community will be succesful in producing food, clothing, shelter, healthy conditions of life, etc.), but man also engages in thought going beyond the immediately practical. For example, since time immemorial he has sought to understand the origin of all things and their general order and nature, in religious thought, in philosophy, and in science. This may be called thought that has 'the totality of all that is' as its content (for example, the attempt to comprehend the nature of reality as a whole). What we are proposing here is that such comprehension of the totality is not a reflective correspondence between 'thought' and 'reality as a whole' Rather, it is to be considered as an art form, like poetry, which may dispose us toward order and harmony in the overall 'dance of the mind' (and thus in the general functioning of the brain and nervous system). This point has been made earlier, in the Indtoduction.
What is required here, then, is not an explanation that would give us some knowledge of the relationship of thought and thing, or of thought and 'reality as a whole'. Rather, what is needed is an act of understanding; in which we see the totality as an actual process that, when carried out properly, tends to bring about a harmonious and orderly overall action, incorporating both thought and what is thought about in a single movement, in which analysis into separate parts (e.g., thought and thing) has no meaning."
Later he discusses the divide between thought and non-thought giving very interesting insights into the topic. Hopefully you found the quotes interesting.
@Mario - Thanks for these which I post in case they are of general interest - but I have to admit that I can't make anything of David Bohm. It's not that I disagree - Bohm was, of course, a friend of Owen Barfield and a significant influence, so I imagine I would agree if I could understand it; but I just can't get a grip on it. I read the words, and they go straight through my mind without leaving a trace! This used to be my experience, more or less, with Barfield, so the situation is not hopeless - but apparently I am not yet ready.
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