Tuesday 21 May 2019

Goethe's urphaenomenon - the point at which one must stop asking questions (and why)...

Goethe said that in science, and presumably elsewhere, there comes a point where one must stop asking questions, stop analysing phenomena into smaller and smaller units and causal interactions - and this point he called the urphaenomenon - which translates as 'original phenomenon'.

One must stop questioning because the phenomenon is indeed 'original' that is it is an origin, which is also to say it is one of the primary creators of reality.

Ultimately, this might be understood as one of the 'origins' of creation - one of the phenomena that existed before divine creation - from which the divinity created; or else (by a different metaphysics) as one of the primary 'units' that were created by the divinity.

So reality began with urpheanomena; and what we perceive is a consequence of interaction between, addition of, transformation of (etc) the urphaenomena. They are the deepest attainable level of reality.

If we try to (pretend to) dissect the urphaenomena, or try to explain what causes them to be as they are - then we err; we get it wrong. Precisely because the urphaenomena are what make explanation possible, they cannot themselves be explained.

Instead of being-explained, the urphaenomena need to be understood. And we potentially understand them by an act of intuition.

How? Because by real, primary, intuitive thinking we may know directly. That is we may know by thinking ourselves that which is real - the tought is identical with the reality. We can - indeed - only know the urphaenomena directly (and not other kinds of phenomena), because urphaenomena are the only real and universal phenomena; we cannot know other kinds of things in this direct way.

Goethe was mostly concerned to define urphaenomena in relation to biology, to emphasise the livingness of living things; the way in which biology was based on a process of development, metamorphosis, transformation - and could not be understood in terms of physical structures (like DNA or brains) or physical processes (like diffusion or neurotransmission). When we do (try to do) this, we simply stop doing biology by treating the living as if it was not living - destroying the very basis of biology. Goethe also asserted that colour was ultimately an aspect of biology - and thus an urphaenomenon that cannot legitimately be redescribed in terms of combinations of wavelengths.

My opinion is that Goethe made a vitally important point - but my own understanding is that all of reality is living (or a part-of some-thing living) so there is no ultimate difference between physics-chemistry and biology - except that the difference is in the opposite direction than usually asserted (ie. all physics is ultimately biology, and indeed all biology is ultimately thinking - and all thinking is ultimately not-biological!)

I would say, more simply than Goethe, that the urphaenomena are Beings.

When we get to the level of disussing Beings we are at the level where free will or agency applies - in other worlds, the level where 'selves' are uncaused causes. We cannot understand a Self by looking inside it, nor by analysing it, nor by breaking into components - because this would be to break the Self, so that it was not being regarded as a Self. The one thing that cannot be done to a Self - qua Self - is to explain its 'inner workings'. Whatever we might suppose we have found; if is really is a Self, then we cannot have found its inner workings.

What we can do, perhaps, is to understand the process by direct knowing, by identification, which means to 'participate' in the process itself - which is at the level of ultimate reality, which is (a kind of) Thinking.

This is the way we (sometimes, briefly) understand or 'know' another person. And it entails loving that person; because love is the absolute necessity for direct knowing. Only by loving the phenomenon can a scientist know a phenomenon - thus real science is not a methodology but a product of sustained and truthful mtoivation to know reality. 

In sum, we can legitimately keep asking questions as to what-causes-what, until we get back to the origins of causes; until we get back to uncaused causes; at which point we must stop, because there is in reality no observable cause of the uncaused; because we have reached the point at which this particular chain of causes originates.


William Wildblood said...

I have come to the same conclusion! That beings are the fundamental things which cannot be broken down into something more primary. This, of course, is contrary to Buddhism and other non-dualistic systems of thought but that is because (in my opinion) these restrict the person to its phenomenal part, the ego in other words. But there is an individual reality behind this and it is the job of spirituality in the West to uncover and develop this, in line with the way shown by Christ.

For Buddhists this is a lower form of spirituality because the self is still involved and we are consequently still in the realm of duality, but that is because they misconstrue the idea of the self, confusing the phenomenal ego with the spiritual individuality. This is why none of these systems have any explanation for creation or the manifested world if one dismisses the idea of creation.

And note that individual means that which cannot be divided any further thereby implying its fundamental reality as stated in the post.

Adil said...

In Sweden, we have a popular science magazine called "Illustrated Science", which illustrates science in an supposedly 'interesting' and readable manner for a mainstream audience. Basically, science as "entertainment" or junk-food. The pages are filled with enlarged pictures of ugly bacteria and and scary insects, as if nature was a horror movie. In the latest edition, the front-page is covered with a depressing mud puddle and a headline saying: "LIFE originated in a water puddle".

I could only laugh sarcastically inside while noting I had just come across one of the clearest examples of the supertitious insanity of mainstream materialism.

Adil said...

@ William

I think Buddhism coincides with materialism in that it reduces things or phenomena to their parts in order to expose the "nothingness" of it all. For example "a human is not really a human but only body parts that assemble something we call A Human". This is useful in certain way, but perhaps not as a ultimate philosophy. Christianity is the opposite in that it focuses on the essence and whole of the human being and the forms - that beauty is actually something real.

William Wildblood said...

I'm sure you're right, Eric, especially since opposites tend to meet at the extremes. That's probably why Buddhism is the easiest form of spirituality for materialists to adopt once they become dissatisfied with their materialism.

Adil said...

As a methodology for clearing the mind and breaking through concepts I'm sure Buddhism is good and much more an advanced philosophy than Christianity. But Christianity has a certain superior, simple and straightforward way of relating to truth. But really westerners turn to Buddhism as their individualistic retreat, which is why the way to romantic Christianity must be opened. Buddhism can be good as far as clearing the mind and potentially being able to see the face of God looking back.

But staying in Buddhism doesn't ultimately lead anywhere, except possible individual dissolution and collective fall-back into maya until nature has run its course, or whatever.

Only Christianity seem to be able to 'restore' creation. And surely, when I look at a human being, I would like to see an image of God (albeit imperfect) rather than a random assembly of.. parts?

Nathaniel said...

Great post as always, and comments are of high quality. Always learning - thank you.