Thursday 10 August 2023

Things instead of Beings... The worst metaphysical mistake of all?

The whole of Western Philosophy (and, more importantly, everything else) is rooted in a metaphysical error - a choice of assumption concerning reality that has accumulated in its damaging effect until now - when we are inhabiting a world in which humans, animals, plants and everything else is being enslaved to serve... Things

[Well, not really... Because the Things are merely tools of demons - but the assumed-Things are the excuse by which the demons do the enslaving. And people don't merely go-along with this, but regard it as Good, as moral - and anyone who opposes or even quibbles with this agenda is regarded as evil and need to be eliminated from public discourse (one way or another)! Such is the nature and effect of metaphysical error.]

Even worse (or, in fact, what makes it possible) is that the Things are abstractions - such as... well the Litmus Test issues (to mention only a few of the most influential); but also Things like the modern virtues of altruism and compassion for suffering.

The mass addiction-to, and participation-in, media; has made matters more blurred and therefore worse: the media sustains the virtual reality, and in this virtuality (which is reality for most people most of the time) Things are beings - and yet they are still Things...

So, what about this metaphysical error? We all started-out assuming and experiencing that our life, the world, the universe consisted of living entities. That it was alive because made of Beings; and that Beings had attributes such as being-alive, conscious, having purposes, and so on...

And then... We all started to assume, instead, that the universe had Things in it: Things that were not alive (unalive), dead, inert, without life, purpose and certainly without consciousness... Until it eventually seemed just silly, absurd, ridiculous! that such Things were alive. 

And then... Well, we began to think that maybe plants, animals, people were also not really alive in the way we used to think. 

(I mean, nobody can define life after all - not even biologists? We started to believe that all which was 'alive' was evolved or developed from unalive Things, and so was not qualitatively different from Things.) 

We started to believe that Things were caused by other Things, or happened randomly for no reason, and that Therefore plants, animal, people were also Things that were nothing more than the results of of things happening to Things. 

And so on. 

And then this world of Things got priority over what had once been Beings. 

We now serve Things: we serve abstract Things such as the government, the media, the economy. 

(People are Human resources and then just resources; animals and plants are part of "the environment" - and the environment is not "nature" but most importantly consists of CO2, Nitrogen and the like; agriculture just one "industry" among many.) 

Computers and "AI" have now taken over the world, and people serve their convenience; or rather, currently we serve, but only until we are replaced by them - eventually eliminated. 

The future we are promised is that Things will look-after The Earth - and Earth is itself be regarded as a Thing. People, animals and plants will be manipulated or eliminated according to the needs of Things. 

It seems that when we allowed Things into the world, we could not stop them taking over the world. We do this to ourselves. Precisely because we believe-in the reality of Thingness; we now cannot believe in the reality of people, nature, life, consciousness...

We need to revisit this very early metaphysical error. 

We need to make a choice: Either this is a world of Beings, or else it is a world of Things. 

So long as both exist; both cannot rule, one must serve, both cannot survive. 

Things or Beings - not both.

Either this life is a Fantastic Voyage of living Beings travelling through a living world; or else it is a strictly meaning-less and purpose-less world of Things; in which we are Things interacting blindly with Things; for no reason - but just because that is how it is.

We each need to revisit the young child that is still within each of us: revisit that early and deadly choice to allow Things into our 'animistic' alive and purpose world. 

Without some such revision, all of philosophy, science and - yes! - religion (including Christianity), will merely re-deliver us to the world of Things; with Things displacing God and Christ, as well as Things displacing you and me. 

Because in a world with Things; sooner or later God and Jesus will also become Things - hence subjected to the authority of world ruling Things.  

(And, standing outside this delusory system, rubbing their hands and laughing as they egg us on to ever-more Thing-ness: Satan and the demons.)


Kristor said...

Amen. There are indeed things. But they are assemblies of beings. It's right there in the etymology of "thing." From the Online Etymology Dictionary:

"Old English þing "meeting, assembly, council, discussion," later "entity, being, matter" (subject of deliberation in an assembly), also "act, deed, event, material object, body, being, creature," from Proto-Germanic *thinga- "assembly" (source also of Old Frisian thing "assembly, council, suit, matter, thing," Middle Dutch dinc "court-day, suit, plea, concern, affair, thing," Dutch ding "thing," Old High German ding "public assembly for judgment and business, lawsuit," German Ding "affair, matter, thing," Old Norse þing "public assembly"). The Germanic word is perhaps literally "appointed time," from a PIE *tenk- (1), from root *ten- "stretch," perhaps on notion of "stretch of time for a meeting or assembly."

The sense "meeting, assembly" did not survive Old English. For sense evolution, compare French chose, Spanish cosa "thing," from Latin causa "judicial process, lawsuit, case;" Latin res "affair, thing," also "case at law, cause." Old sense is preserved in second element of hustings and in Icelandic Althing, the nation's general assembly."

Some things - some assemblages of beings - are beings in their own right, with lives; there is something it is like to be them. Some are not; e.g., rocks, probably.

We go off the rails and start assigning concrete being to things that are not actual beings when we start treating all things as assemblages of things that are not actual beings. Then we start to go crazy, and grow in vice. After all, if there are no actual beings, how can it matter what we do?

Francis Berger said...

This is an important theme. Some philosophers have referred to thing-ness as objectivization or objectification. When one looks upon Beings as things or objects, one immediately deprives them of their freedom. The same applies when people allow themselves to be treated as things or objects.

The fear of freedom surfaces yet again. It seems most people prefer to be considered as things and consider other Beings as things because to do otherwise would instantly reveal the spiritual inherent in all Beings.

I've been wrestling with this from the perspective of subject-object, with subject representing Beings and object representing things. Though I can't articulate it clearly, I sense that reality is always in the subject, not the object. Thus, to experience reality beyond oneself is to connect subject to subject, or Being to Being.

The Anti-Gnostic said...

Re: a world of Beings, I offer this:

In the time of my confession, in the hour of my deepest need
When the pool of tears beneath my feet flood every newborn seed
There's a dying voice within me reaching out somewhere
Toiling in the danger and in the morals of despair
Don't have the inclination to look back on any mistake
Like Cain, I now behold this chain of events that I must break
In the fury of the moment I can see the Master's hand
In every leaf that trembles, and in every grain of sand

Oh, the flowers of indulgence and the weeds of yesteryear
Like criminals, they have choked the breath of conscience and good cheer
The sun beat down upon the steps of time to light the way
To ease the pain of idleness and the memory of decay
I gaze into the doorway of temptation's angry flame
And every time I pass that way, I always hear my name
Then onward in my journey, I come to understand
That every hair is numbered like every grain of sand

I have gone from rags to riches in the sorrow of the night
In the violence of a summer's dream, in the chill of a wintry light
In the bitter dance of loneliness, fading into space
In the broken mirror of innocence on each forgotten face
I hear the ancient footsteps like the motion of the sea
Sometimes I turn, there's someone there, other time it's only me
I am hanging in the balance of a perfect finished plan
Like every sparrow falling, like every grain of sand

--Bob Dylan, "Every Grain of Sand"

Luke said...

As Christ says "even the stones would cry out". I can remember being fascinated by that statement from a young age, but it never occured to me until reading your blog that such a thing might be possible because the stones are beings themselves, and not merely as a show of God's power over nature.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Luke - Yes indeed. It was once absolutely normal to believe that at least some stones, in some situations, might 'cry out' in some sense - and yet I read, just a couple of days ago:

From Philosophical Investigations, by Ludwig Wittgenstein:

"What gives us so much as the idea that living beings, things, can feel? Is it that my education has led me to it by drawing my attention to feelings in myself, and now I transfer the idea to objects outside myself? That I recognize that there is something there (in me) which I can call "pain" without getting into conflict with the way other people use this word? - I do not transfer my idea to stones, plants, etc. Couldn't I imagine having frightful pains and turning to stone while they lasted? Well, how do I know, if I shut my eyes, whether I have not turned into a stone? And if that has happened, in what sense will the stone have the pains? In what sense will they be ascribable to the stone? And why need the pain have a bearer at all here?! And can one say of the stone that it has a soul and that is what has the pain? What has a soul, or pain, to do with a stone? Only of what behaves like a human being can one say that it has pains."

Wittgenstein is here failing to do metaphysics - as he so often and lethally did throughout his work - which is why, although often very interesting and stimulating in detail, Wittgenstein's work is wrong overall - and of no fundamental use in the cure of our modern predicament.

W. is regarding it as obviously absurd that a stone could have a soul, or suffer pain. And yet there were times and places in history when this would have been regarded as unremarkable common sense. People may have known, and lived in accordance with the belief, that a particular stone (perhaps a particular stone in a megalithic stone circle, one might imagine?) was alive, conscious, had motivations, and might feel pain - or anger! - at being kicked!

The un-aliveness of a stone is a metaphysical assumption, not an obvious 'fact' - or more exactly, it is only an obvious 'fact' because of the prior unnoticed/ unexamined/ denied metaphysical choice.

Michael Baron said...

This is one of the reasons why some people very strongly caution against carrying a knife or a gun for self defense unless absolutely necessary. Though, they didn't often recognize the full implications. The knife wants to be used, to get you into a fight you otherwise might have avoided entirely. Swords crave blood, and modern WMDs crave the annihilation of the world

Michael Baron said...

After posting my previous comment, I was suddenly reminded of the English novel series Elric, wherein the king finds the sword Stormbringer, a living weapon which can speak and demands he feed it lest it curse him in some way. I forget the details since I haven't read it in many years, but it expresses the idea well.

Bruce Charlton said...

Michael - I think the idea of a talking sword maybe came from the Finnish Kalevala, and was also included by Tolkien in his Turin Turambar story.

Michael Baron said...

I need to get around to reading all the stuff regarding the Children of Hurin. That's the one major arc I've barely touched of Tolkien's main material. Michael Moorcock is a far lesser author.

Lizzy Beta said...

I've just discovered Iain McGilchrist and his left brain/ right brain theory. In short, the left brain is: focussed attention, grasping, manipulating, believes in a mechanistic materialistic world, is not embodied, thinks in abstractions, breaks things into parts, is about power and control over one's environment. The right brain is about: awareness of the other, the world as a flowing, ever changing place, embodied, attuned to the Other, understands the implicit, metaphor, is intuitive, understands the whole as greater than the parts.

McGilchrist argues that over the last century the world has become full of people who think with their left brain only, who build bureaucracies, systems, ideologies, and try to shoehorn us all into their mechanistic world of things. He believes the more grounded, alive, living, intuitive right brain is being silenced, to our detriment.

You are saying much the same thing!

Bruce Charlton said...

@LB - I have known McGilchrist' work for some decades - -

but what I am saying here is Not what he is saying.

Metaphysics (which is what I'm doing here) is a different level of discourse than science and history (which is what McG is doing).

Natureboi said...

No, the fundamental metaphysical error is emphasis of the state of Being (noun) over the act of Being (verb). Action precedes actor because all actors proceed from the Creation. The Creator is not “a being in the sense we mean that of any being”, His Beingness is the pure act of creation (this is found in Ex 3:14 and also in Aquinas).

The rot in Christendom stems from emphasis of the systematized status as an actor in a prescribed system of formal relations rather than emphasizing identity formed in the process of relationship emerging from diverse interactions (the term for an interaction which forms a shared template of identity is “intercourse”.)

Bruce Charlton said...

@N - Sorry to repeat myself, but this is metaphysics! You are drawing a distinction between noun and verb that is rooted in different metaphysical assumptions.

What I'm doing is to assume that a fundamental unit of ultimate reality is (eternal) Beings - of which you and I, God and Jesus Christ, are instances - and there are also (*many*) Beings that we currently would term animals, plants, and of the mineral world.

Since Beings are alive, purposive, conscious (in some way), self-sustaining etc - then these are attributes of the world.

(Although not everything is a Being - because sometimes some things (the result of drawing some boundaries around bits of reality) are *part* of a Being. So I am a Being, but my arm is not; however, the cells within my arm are Beings. Thus there are hierarchies. And so on...)