Saturday 1 June 2019

Beings and Selves in Time

Reality is made up of Beings. And these Beings exist 'in' Time.

In physics terminology, Beings are analogous to processes. If you try to think of a process outside of Time, it becomes frozen and not really a process anymore - and the same kind of thing happens with Beings.

If you try to think of a universe of Beings that are not 'inside time' then you will get something very unlike Beings - maybe a reality made of indestructible inert spheres, or something like that.  But beings are intrinsically active, doing - to some degree.

Because Beings are in-Time, then they must be 'doing' something - and what Beings are doing is having Relationships with other Beings.

So, this is the irreducible basis of Reality - Beings have-ing Relationships... Time cannot be subtracted from ultimate reality.

Because Beings are active (like processes) and eternal (because fundamental aspects of reality) - Beings are self-generating, self-creating.

If beings were like physics things, Beings would be perpetual motion machines, with infinite inner resources for self-creation.

But as Beings are the most fundamental units, we infer that self-creation is simply a 'property' of ultimate reality.

What about the Self? Well, Self is what a Being calls it own Being - so a Being and it's Self are the same 'thing' - but the Being is externally and abstractly regarded, whereas the Self is a Being's conceptualisation of itself.

I assume that this is an intrinsic property of Beings - that Beings know they are Selves, to some degree distinct from other Beings.

There is no 'inside' to the Self. It is a primary unit of reality, indivisible, unanalysable - and this (I think) means that the Self is 'immaterial' - it is not solid, not localised, does not have a surface, cannot be perceived or detected...

This sounds like lots of negatives, but this is simply to state that when it comes to the primary units of reality, there can be no further analysis. We can describe what a Being is and what it does (much like describing the character of a person in terms of his attributes, or inferred dominant motivations), but we cannot discuss its 'inner workings'. 

What is Consciousness? Consciousness is something outside-of and different-from the Self. The Consciousness observes - and one of the things Consciousness observes is the Self.

All Beings have some degree of Consciousness; although some entities (of what we call the mineral world, especially; but also the plant world) have a Consciousness that is relatively slow and weak, compared with men and some animals.

So all Beings are in relationships with other Beings, and all are somewhat Conscious of themselves and of this relationship with other Beings. All Beings therefore know themselves located within ongoing Time and reality.

What this means is that Self and and Consciousness are both attributes of Being. We can distinguish Self and Consciousness, but they are not divisible - you cannot have a Self without Consciousness or vice versa; S & C are characteristics of Being (which it may be helpful to distinguish), but S & C are not 'components' of Being.

This is a strange way of reasoning! ('Coleridge apparently called it Polar Logic; and you can read about it in Owen Barfield's What Coleridge Thought.)

But it essential to think in this way if we are to avoid the unresolvable paradoxes and problems that have plagued and paralysed Western Philosophy (and Christian Theology) since the Ancient Greeks invented it.

The key is to include Time in our fundamental metaphysical assumptions about ultimate reality - and this fits with (or naturally flows-from) the Christian scheme; since the incarnation, death and resurrection of Jesus happens in history, in time.

Christianity is linear, sequential and purposive.


Francis Berger said...

I intended to comment on this yesterday, but I needed some time to digest what you have written here. Barfield's insights via Coleridge (if I have that correct) appear to be very similar to Berdyaev's; the terminology is the only notable difference I have been able to detect thus far. I like the point you make about time being key (as linear, sequential, purposive). Berdyaev certainly believed this, as represented by his religious epochs. Time is a crucial component of process and the resolution of the apparent paradox/contradiction of bipolarity (seeing it as two separate aspects rather than as two parts of a single process).

I got to thinking about time and how modern people tend to view time as a net negative - time as a needless measurement of pointlessness/boredom, as a jailkeeper in jobs/obligations, as a destroyer of life, as an obstacle toward material goals.

Of course, this all becomes perfectly understandable if time is not regarded as purposive. And if time is not purposive, then a yearning to "step outside of time" or "stop time" begins to develop. Accepting time as linear, sequential, and purposive would indeed be a crucial part of the metaphysical realignment you have written about previously.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Francis - Good points.

It is becoming clearer to me that there are many facets to what has been happening to Western thought... One is that Christianity is being interpreted from an Eastern persective, to the point that people lose sight of the difference between a system of linear time with a purpose; and No Time with No Self; between the immortality of resurrected bodies and the immortality is static bliss; between a world based in love between persons (and other beings) and a world of bliss without persons or Beings.

Christianity does, of course, make astonishing and incredible claims about what could be - but our society has became unable to understand these claims to the extent that they are reinterpreted as something else, something which is extremely different (if not opposite, then orthogonal - nothing to do with real Christianity).

I can't say that self-identified Christians are much better than atheists, on average - they have become so distracted and confused by peripheral issues. And I suppose this began very early in the history of the faith.

Indeed, I suspect that the very simple and literal ideas of simple and barely literate Christians may have been much truer than the theologians - I mean ideas about Heaven as an idealised healthy-and-happy mortal life, living with our loved ones, meeting Jesus and being his friend etc. (I am thinking of some naive illustrations I saw in a Jehovah's Witnesses pamphlet).

I would not be surprised if this 'perfect holiday' was indeed the basis of Heavenly life for many people (at least initially) - all that needs to be added is an awareness of this would be over eternity, which leads to a consideration of the need for each of us to be participating in God's art/craft/work of creating, as the only possible permanent joy for loving Beings.

The difference between Paradise and Heaven is that Paradise is passive (original participation), Heaven is active (final participation); paradise is populated by children (even if these are adult-children); Heaven has children but also contains gods (i.e. grown up men).

a_probst said...

Does any of what you have been saying about the function of time in recent entries rule out the possibility of its being one of His creations, his first perhaps?

Bruce Charlton said...

@ap - yes, it is intended to rule that out.

It is intended to establish that Time cannot be created because creation is dynamic includes Time. I intend to assume that God is 'inside' Time, like all other Beings - and I believe that to argue God is outside Time leads to incoherence (for Christians).

Of course, it has been standard mainstream Christian theology since the early centuries of the church to state that God is outside of Time, and that God 'created' Time. But this is not Scriptural, nor did Jesus teach it - it comes-into Christianity from outside, from already existing pagan philosophy; and it works against Christianity at a deep level - mainly by eroding the belief in God as loving, and love as central.

Love is dynamic therefore must be inside Time; and therefore a God outside Time cannot be loving.

The idea that God created Time fits well with Islam - since it is linked to the idea of an omni-God - where there is zero tolerance of any limitation placed upon God's power; indeed, I suspect that this is a deep reason why Islam has grown to displace Christianity from its heartlands and to become larger - because the concept of the nature of God fits more common-sense coherently with the religion; whereas Christianity is riven and weakened by the counter-current of its alien metaphysical assumptions... one of which is that God created Time.