Thursday 7 December 2017

What is reality, and how should we engage with it?

Well first, what is Not reality?

Reality (we would agree) has nothing to do with what appears in the public domain: in the mass media, in official communications from politicians, government, educational, police, military, legal, health service, religious or any other of the major social institutions that dominate the arena.

We know that all such systems of communication are not just unreliable but fundamentally corrupted - in most cases their net (overall) intent and outcome is an inversion of their officially-proclaimed focus and motivation.

I repeat: we know this.

So where is reality?

One semi-plausible but overall-mistaken idea is that while the overall public arena is contaminated and corrupted - within-it may be found groupings of people that provide honest and properly-motivated communications.

This may be true in a specific instance - but the question is how do we, personally, know which groups can be trusted here-and-now?

(Especially considering that the corruption of truth, beauty and virtue is on-going: more-and-more groups and individuals succumb every month... So groups cannot be trusted on the basis of past reputation - not even on the basis of centuries of past reputation... after all, the ancient universities are the focus and origin of much of the worst dishonesty and inversion to be found in modernity.)

The only safe conclusion is that no groups are to be trusted except when we, personally - here-and-now, have evaluated them as trustworthy. We cannot rely on any other authority.

So where is reality?... Wrong question. The proper question is what is reality?

Reality is not any actual communication - so (assuming reality exists) it must be in a realm untouched by communication, not dependent on communication - a realm that we can know directly - each for himself.

So we acknowledge a reality that is universally and directly accessible... But at this point we need to make an assumption concerning whether this reality is something we can merely observe; or whether it is something we can affect. Do we appreciate reality - without changing it; or do we participate in reality?

My assumption is that we can participate in reality - but clearly this participation is not automatic nor is it unconstrained. There are requirements set on participation in reality - not least that our participation is compatible-with existing reality in terms of form and direction.

Thus we return to the matter of understanding what kind-of-thing reality is?

In brief: I assume that we can only know that reality we conceptualise, and conceptualising means thinking - we cannot know anything of un-thought reality, because to know is to think.

Therefore assuming God wants us to know reality, things must be set-up such that we can know reality by thinking...

This (I believe) entails that reality is itself a kind of thinking; else we could not know it.

Reality therefore seems to be God's thinking, and God's thinking is knowable creation.

At this point comes another crux: if we ourselves are to participate-in reality, we must affect the universal divine thinking - which (I believe) implies that we ourselves need to be divine.

In other words, if reality is God's thinking, and we can participate in God's thinking, we must be of the same kind as God... at least to the extent of the times and situations we are actually knowing reality and participating in divine thinking.

(We do not have to be fully divine, nor divine all the time, nor forever - but while actually knowing and participating we need to have attained divinity.)

We have come a very long way from the commonly-held idea that the way to now reality is by attending to communications; and that the way in change reality is to promote of alternative ideas in the public arena...

The situation seems to be that the real-action occurs not in group-orientated communication; but instead in the thinking of individuals.

Not much else could be so profoundly at-odds-with modern Life - with modern metaphysics and modern practice (practice being a large-scale and group-ish world of propaganda, hype, spin and rhetoric).

The conclusion seems to be paradoxical or else nonsensical, according to prior assumptions; reality is in thinking not acting, in direct-knowing not communication, on engaging the individual and not the mass, and is restricted by the mode and nature of thinking - and not by power, status or fame.

We tend, by sheer habit as well as conviction, to look-for reality in large scale communication, rather than in solo - albeit not solitary - thinking. We assume that the public arena is where serious things happen - yet serious Good may be restricted to the private realm of thinking.

The public realm of communications may indeed cause serious harm - by dishonesty and evil motivations, by misrepresentation and misdirection; but serious Good may, here and now and for you and me, be a matter of our personal thinking in the universal realm of reality.


Unknown said...

"In brief: I assume that we can only know that reality we conceptualise, and conceptualising means thinking - we cannot know anything of un-thought reality, because to know is to think."

This is logically sound, Bruce, but what about the possibility that there is a supra-cognitive faculty that we can develop within us that allows us to apprehend reality?

Perhaps God wants us to not dwell forever in concepts and thoughts but develop our supra-cognitive faculty to gain access to Him.

Is it just that you personally have no intuition of such a faculty, no inkling, and therefore cannot personally accept it's existence?

This is fine, but u must be aware that entire religions for millenia were based on not just the existence of such a faculty, but whose entire training was about bringing this faculty to fruition, and that a huge part of traditional Christianity assumes the existence of such a faculty.

You just dismiss all this, all these wise, saintly, and intelligent men were just wrong, tilting at windmills, and there is no supra-cognitive faculty, and curiously enough this has been discovered precisely in the age of lowest spiritual vitality?

I can see how one can say I have not felt the stirring of such a faculty within me, even remotely, all I have known are concepts, but one must account for the historical record somehow, it seems to me, and simply dismissing these saints as wrong does not seem honest to me.

*Original participation is manifestly not this supra-cognitive faculty, as OP is sub-cognitive not supra-cognitive.

ted said...

@Bruce, while I agree with you many forms of group action/consensus/authority are bad for us in cultivating a relationship with Reality, I do see some place for authority by the right sources. For instance, reading your blog or the ideas of many others have helped me in refining my thinking as well opening me to a deeper relationship with God over time. The Catholic Church, albeit corrupted in many ways, still serves as a good source of authority for many seekers. So while our engagement must be rooted in our internal relationship with Reality, our outer relationship with good sources of authority can also serve as a useful scaffolding.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Unknown - I *think* what I am describing probably *is* a supracognitive faculty - but I may be misunderstanding what you mean by the term.

My understanding, derived from Barfield, is that Man has developed throughout history - and what was right for (say) the Byzantine or Medieval European situation, was indeed right; but is no longer right here-and-now.

In fact, I believe it is literally impossible, and people who think otherwise (I was briefly, one of them) are fooling themselves - are hiding from themselves their own cognitive processes.

So some of the Saints - such as Cuthbert of Lindisfarne - were truly great; but how he was and what he did should not, and indeed cannot, be done now. Our task is different.

Our task should have been done c. 200 years ago - but was not: we must do it now.

Unknown said...

Thanks for your response, Bruce.

What I mean by supra-cognitive is that it allows us direct contact with ultimate reality - so it is not sub-cognitive, a mere going to sleep, but rather an Awakening - outside of any conceptual nets whatsoever, so that to our conceptual minds it may appear as emptiness, but is nevertheless not nothing.

Sort of what the anonymous English author of The Cloud Of Unknowing had in mind - to our conceptual minds it would appear as an "unknowing", but to this inner faculty it would appear as the full richness of ultimate reality.

I think I understand how you apply the idea of evolution here, along with Barfield, the problem is that if you are right, and what we cannot think is not real, and reality can only appear to us through thinking and concepts, then this is in stark opposition to what these great saints and religions were saying all along.

In other words, there's no evolution from one stage to another, but refutation, contradiction, and dismissal.

If they are right and ultimate reality can be apprehended without using concepts or thoughts, then you are wrong when you say we must use concepts to apprehend ultimate reality, and vice versa.

The relationship is one of contradiction not evolution.

Now I perfectly understand when you say original participation, which is below the level of consciousness not above it - i.e it does not even give us as much a glimpse of reality as is afforded in concepts and thinking, but is a kind of sleep - is a lower stage on an evolutionary path towards higher and higher glimpses of ultimate reality.

That makes perfect sense.

The problem is, the great saints and religions of the past have all claimed that conceptual thinking itself is a lower stage on the path towards greater and greater Awakening, that there is something higher than concepts and thoughts.

They would claim you are tarrying in the intermediate realm.

Now you may be right and they may be wrong, but on what basis can we dismiss the claims of these great and holy men that they had found a stage even higher than conceptual thought?

Bruce Charlton said...

Ted and Unknown - You can see I have dealt with this subject is more detail in a further blog post; which came to me earlier today when reflecting on the above post (or rather, a way of putting the point came to me - the realisation is some years old).

PhilR said...

You and your blog are on a roll again Bruce!
I pretty much agree with your diagnosis of the problem of the individual in the current spiritual climate and the need for discernment, and find the idea of Barfieldian 'final participation' fruitful. And I also accept the institutional problems, largely, as you outline them. And yet, and yet...perhaps things aren't quite that bad. As a Catholic there are always the sacraments. The task of the individual is to repent, is to request the grace worthily to receive them. But then - they work. Ex opere operato - 'by the work worked'. Whatever the obfuscations of media and the rest - that is the golden thread, the promise held out to us......

Bruce Charlton said...

@PhilR - Thanks. Yes, so long as it works.

I too can find the Eucharist of clear and significant value. However I also find that this is not always the case - only rarely; and indeed some sacramental situations should - it seems - be actively avoided - since the total situation does net-harm.

The danger point may come when a church uses access to the sacraments as blackmail, or a kind of bait to force people to subject themselves to propaganda and the like.

Chiu ChunLing said...

I initially wished to merely point out that "reality" is a term that needs to be defined, and in this usage it would be more appropriate to use two related but distinct terms. I commonly go with "truth" and "reality".

Reality, in my view, is the morally neutral Law of the universe. When I say it is morally neutral, what I mean is that it does not care about our desired ends, it has no "right" and "wrong" judgment of our actions. Instead it merely provides that every action has a consequence, and whether we willed the action or like the consequence is something to which the Law is supremely indifferent.

Truth, then is the intersection of God's knowledge of what is desirable for our good and the immutable and indifferent Law. God is not morally neutral at all, He desires our good and thus those consequences which bring about that good mark out some actions as right, while those consequences which impede what is good mark out the associated actions as wrong

I feel that the clarification between these two concepts is crucial to understand essential Christian ideas such as the interaction between justice (which is satisfying the Law) and mercy (which is doing so in a way that is good). I am not insistent on the particular terminology, though I feel that mine is closer to how those terms are commonly used. But I do see problems arising when they are not distinguished clearly.

In this post, I take it that you have discussed what I normally call truth by the name of reality, perhaps it would be good to call it divine reality (though I think divine truth is even better). At least, if I go through and read it in that light, it makes the most sense to me.

Moving to the comments, I was interested by the assertion that the Original Participation you espouse is primarily sub-cognitive rather than supra-cognitive. I think the confusion is because you seem to emphasize (and I agree on this point) that Original (and I think this term implies spontaneous creativity) Participation requires abdication of "common sense" dualities and distinctions we learn from society and a reliance on intuition which has unconscious foundations, rather than methodical conscious application of fixed rules. But the characteristic of Original Participation is an experience of heightened awareness of divine truths (or reality, as I think you have termed it during your post) and a level of cognitive functioning (enabled by continuous flashes of sound intuition in defiance of mundane worldly thought) which should aptly be described as supra-cognitive.

But perhaps I am misinterpreting your terminology, the usages sometime appears idiosyncratic...even deliberately so (I think that you are going for evocation of meaning bypassing fixed definitions, but I rather like carefully defined and consistently used terms).

Bruce Charlton said...

@CCL - Definition is usage.