‘Show us not the knowledge beyond our capacity
Come to us, O Indra’ [Rig Vedam: 1.4.3]
Stalking The Bear To Its Lair
‘Show us not the knowledge beyond our capacity
Come to us, O Indra’ [Rig Vedam: 1.4.3]
Stalking The Bear To Its Lair
‘Does God Exist?’, the indispensable question of every Thinking Man and Woman is premature and presumptuous. The proper question, prior, proximate, more modest in its reach is: ‘Does Man exist?’
The Lady doesn’t need you to verify Her presence, thank you very much. She merely asks that you first confirm yours.
To talk about ‘God’ is not an act of sober piety but one of vacuous arrogance. A displayed humility is greater hubris. Pick any theological text of any religion and be awed at the sweep of reckless excess.
It is comic fluff to grandstand about ‘God’ before first locating ‘Man’. [For real humor, visit learned dissertations by contemporary Academics with compelling titles like ‘Ontological Necessity’].
The grander your tag the greater your pretense. You always and only seek to first verify the presence or absence of ‘Man’. And then go on to the Big One.
You always and only orient to Shūnyam [‘True Nothing’], to mortification, never the other way around [a Man-Made ‘God’ or ‘Ultimate Reality’ and such]. That road is long clogged with the broken bodies of proud pilgrims. Hence shunyam.org.
[The ‘Inward Turn’ of the Chandogya Upanishad around 1,000 BCE arose partly in response to this recognition. ‘Godless cult!’ was the first egg thrown at the emerging new Buddha-Dharma. This was rich.]
I had been around. And I had slid. From an amused bemusement, past simple bewilderment, beyond all sophisticated skepticism, to a lurching unquiet desperation.
Perhaps you are one of the blessed, one with an easy, resilient faith. You don’t see what all the fuss is about.
Scrape the surface and nothing makes sense. So I sit on the side and agree to pretend.
Cherished, coddled paradigms that are deeply conflicted are preserved precariously with strips and patches of facile assumptions, specious logic and authoritative bluster. A Learned Ignorance replaced by an erudite cleverness.
You are finally ready to allow the possibility [and just the possibility] that most explanations are deflections, denials and exalted rationalizations.
That a pious insanity is afoot.
[The modern equivalent of the mythic: ‘Disease, Old Age and Death’, the rousing that must precede every entry into the forest. A gentler sensibility than mine would have flagged the Buddhist ‘Suffering’ [Dukkha] instead of a futile senselessness.]
Zeno, the favorite of Parmenides [‘Venerable and Awful’], a pioneer of the logico-mathematical paradox, describes his new treatise to Socrates:
‘It is…a defense of Parmenides against those who make fun of his ideas…this book is a retort against those who assert a Plurality…pays them back in the same coin with something to spare. For it shows that on a thorough examination, their own supposition that there is a Plurality leads to even more absurd consequences than the Hypothesis of ‘The One’.’
The Parmenides is considered the most difficult of the Platonic Dialogues. That is because Parmenides [and a few others; see the Posts] was alert to the Self-Loop, and to which his modern interpreters are conspicuously innocent.
When Socrates asks Parmenides to relate his own long odyssey, he first goes silent. Then: ‘I feel like the old race horse at Ibycus, who trembles at the start of the chariot race knowing from long experience what is in store for him.’ The modern Academic or Pop Philosopher is unlikely to sign-up.
‘Not-Two’ is a more deliberate and careful construct than: ‘The One’ [Ekam]. But ‘The One’ is close enough.
This and all other excerpts from Plato’s Dialogues are from the Hamilton and Cairns, Princeton, ’61 Edition.
This is the story of the Symbol: ‘0’. From the exalted heights of the Upaniṣads and Sūtras to its present consignment as inconspicuous character on a corner of a crowded computer keyboard.
The earliest interpretation of the Symbol ‘0’ was as Pūjyam: ‘That worthy of worship’. From what little we know about its intended meaning it was a simultaneous reference to both a Completeness [the Plenum of the Iśopaniṣad] and one of Absolute Absence.
The meaning meanders over the subsequent centuries and in time settles as Shūnyam, ‘True Nothing’, from a verbal root denoting hollowness [’empty inside’].
The Symbol ‘0’ is the graphic expression for the absence of the expressed. The original Self-Negating Expression, an instant self-contradiction, the short blade of Seppuku.
A Self-Negating Expression is simply an expression which you need to negate in order to get to what it is referring to. The necessary and time-tested tool to get to the bottom of this business.
It’s lingual equivalent is Shūnyam. In English, ‘True Nothing’, Absolute Absence. Its auditory equivalent is the sound: ‘Silence!’ [You violate the silence in commanding: ‘Silence!’].
The unexamined, inherited, implicit and arbitrary divide of: ‘Self and World’ [God and Man; Subject and Object] is deeply conflicted, demonstrably senseless. At extreme, self-flagellating, violent, at war with itself and its world.
The English word ‘Religion’ etymologically descends from the Latin-French Re-Ligaire: ‘To bind back’. The Subject: Object Divide doesn’t originate in heaven but in the very terrestrial assumption of an ‘Independent and Separated ‘Self’.
Cut once; get two. A pair is the first and minimal unit of division, the elemental DNA, the fundamental building block, of every Man-Made Model. The arbitrary divide of Subject and Object births in an implicit, unstated claim to a Separated ‘Self’.
You will find Shūnyam at the terminus of ‘The Backward Step’, behind all intertwined Object[s] confuted as Subject and all interpretations of Subject fabricated in intricate diaphanous reflexive loops of logic and language, what we call ‘Self’.
[‘Self’ as used here and as was interpreted in the higher literature is not some mystical genie but rather a ‘Confounding of Object as Subject’, an explicit and verifiable term.]
Where you thought there was a ‘Self’ as Subject, there you will find Shūnyam. As the name plainly reveals, there is no such thing as ‘True Nothing’. That you see something there is the speck in your vision.
‘True-Nothing’ is not to be confounded with the Concept of Nothing, the Idea of Absence, an altogether-different animal. [As in the arithmetic condition: -1<0<+1; or such extensions as ‘Tending to Zero’ in Calculus.
[The usable rule is if you can sit in your rocking-chair and imagine or speculate a ‘True-Nothing’, what you have imagined or speculated is emphatically not: ‘True Nothing’.]
Shūnyam was designed as a guiding-rail. Without it the ‘Backward Step’ is not navigable. You will spin indefinitely in self-referential loops with no exit.
The analytic convenience of the ‘Subject-Object Divide’ is one unit. They are mutually supporting modeling artifacts. The recurring act of an undead Subject is to name an Object that in turn reflexively gives it life.
Are you still sneaking in ever more nuanced names and sophisticated abstractions, synthetic ‘Objects’ to match an absent ‘Subject’? It’s the oldest trick in the book to assure yourself that you are still around. [See ‘That’ and the subsequent Posts to locate your coordinates.
The Symbol ‘0’ marks the [Self-Scuttling] Sight-Insight on the very nature of Sight-Insight. And the Natural Limit of Inquiry [‘Inquiry’ with a capital ‘I’; I am still inquiring as to why my spinach never blanches just right].
For to not end the Inquiry in the arisen conviction of the absence of a ‘Self’ is to have not awoken to the significance of the absence of a ‘Self’ in the first place.
The Symbol ‘0’ is simply the Logical Form of Tát [literally, ‘That’], the original Vedic Insight, taken to its natural, necessary and inevitable limit.
Shūnyam as ‘True Nothing’ and the proper means to arrive at it originate in Yājñavalkya‘s Algorithm, a construct first put-together to arrive at ‘That’.
Originally meant as a transparent Teaching Tool, Shūnyam was muddled into impenetrable mystique, elongated into opaque doctrines in a series of consequential and commingled short-stops by unfinished monks and book-read scholars.
It was later picked-up by the radical scholar-monks of the emerging Buddha-Dharma around 500 BCE and elaborated in the luminous and subversive classic, the Diamond Sūtra.
Its first translation from the Sanskrit [Vajrachedika] was into classical Chinese in 179 CE by Lokashema [The Tao-Hsing]. With it the Symbol went East as Shūnyathā [a later derivative and truncated version of Shūnyam] and took on local forms.
Around 1,000 years later the Symbol, along with the Decimal System of Number Representation [from Das, for ‘Ten’], headed West and docked in Venice. And did the same. We follow it in both directions.
And so it enters this our present Information Age residing at its very heart. An Age where all Knowledge [nay, even all Wisdom] is captured in the Boolean Binary of ‘0,1’.
The mathematician Pappus records Archimedes: ‘Give me a place to stand and [with a lever] I shall move the earth’. You don’t need to move the earth. But you do need to step back to ‘True Nothing’ [Shūnyam] to see what’s going on with everything.
It is explicit, irreducible, achievable and verifiable. In other words, you cannot fudge it. You either sight Shūnyam or you don’t. Like the Nerds say: ‘It’s a ‘0,1’ thing’.
It is fully in effect, complete and uncompromised, not tomorrow, not on the mountain-top but just now and right here, as you read this line.
Herein, the only tale, the steamy gripper, the story of Shūnyam.
The two most deceptively simple words in the English Language are the midgets: ‘Is’ and ‘Not’. Existence and Absence. [Sanskrit, from the roots: as and na.]
We shall get to the ‘Is’ later. For now, the ‘Not’.
Not; Nothing; Nonsense; Never; Neither; Neutral. They all come from the same gene. One big mischievous joint-family. [I know of no word that more annoys a trained Logician than the word ‘Not’.]
And here is how the mischief begins:
North America and South America together make up the Americas. But North America and Not-North America?
We are not quite sure what exactly is: ‘North America and Not-North America’.
‘Not quite sure?’ That’s right. Not quite sure.
And not quite sure what exactly: ‘Not quite sure’ means.
Nor the above sentence.
Nor the above. Nor the previous…
This is the Self-Negating Expression rolled-out and in full display. The ‘Backward Step’ is simply the unravelling of this sequence, an ‘Infinite Regress’, without winking or blinking, all the way back to ‘True Nothing’.
This is just one example. You can construct one that connects to you, that has you annoyed and cornered. All properly constructed and honestly unwound Self-Negating Expressions will converge at the same terminus.
Try your hand at: ‘All words are meaningless’-itself an expression in words. Or: ‘I don’t exist!’. The Symbol ‘0’ is the fecund founding father of this deranged progeny.
A ‘Point’ is a beginning unit of measure. It is the place where we decided to stop and mark the location with a name [‘Here Ye! Henceforth this shall be called a ‘Point’].
A Line is defined as a ‘Series of Points’ [what Euclid called a ‘breadth-less length’].
We are not sure what a ‘Point’ is; it is formally undefined. But a ‘Line’ is something your little girl understands. No limit of abstraction business here. And away we go with crayon and color. Crayon and color that make up ‘Self’ and ‘World’.
‘Individual’: from the Latin, In-dividuus: that which is ‘Indivisible-Further’, as in a-tomous for ‘atom’.
Any wedge of cheese that I can cut once, I can cut twice. Or thrice. In fact I can cut it as fine as I want. I just need sharper and stronger knives.
I can if I am in the mood, cut it a trillion times. Then anther trillion. And just keep going. But this can get tedious. And what I am cutting no longer tastes like cheese. So where should I stop?
[Make sure to do all this in broad daylight. And do not nick the Higgs-Boson, a.k.a. the ‘God-Particle’, else the scientists at CERN will get very upset.]
What applies for cheese, applies for carrots and broccoli. At some point they get tossed into the salad.
The Atom in Physics, the Element in Chemistry, the Axiom in Logic, the Point in Mathematics, the Word in Language, the Morpheme in Linguistics..
Do you remember where you stopped before climbing into your salad?
‘Science’, from the Latin Scire, related to the words ‘Cognition’ and ‘Consciousness’, is a form of Knowledge, a type of Knowing.
Science is important. Except for some arrivistes like ‘Liberal Humanism’ or older elites like Agnosticism, it is the Modern Educated Man’s most embraceable Religion.
[And like all religions, it offers tremendous solace and hope. Religions have their reasons to be.]
Nickolaus Copernicus, a Renaissance scholar and a catholic cleric, began the Modern Age of Science. In his De revolutionibus orbium coelestium:
‘There is no center for the celestial spheres; the center of the Earth is not the center of the Universe; the spheres revolve around the Sun..‘.
Before him, dear old Earth was the static center of the Universe [‘Geocentric’ paradigm]. The Heliocentric Theory [‘Helios’, the Greek Sun-God] found a new deity. The real center, it said, was in-fact the Sun.
Science as a Modern Religion began with planetary self-displacement. Where we stand is not the true center. The Observer is not the unmoving ground.
But Science keeps replacing every displaced god with a new deity. Science hasn’t finished the job, stepped-back only half-way. It needs to step back all the way, to the absence of all centers, of any center. Step back all the way to Shūnyam.
[Martin Luther, whose reinterpretation of Rome let loose the Prometheus that reshaped World Order helped publish Copernicus’ work, if I recall. One, a Catholic cleric, the other its nemesis, in a brotherhood of defiant ideas. I’ll have to fish my old files for the details.]
It takes a Genius to answer: ‘Gravity makes the Apple fall’. And a Fool to ask: ‘Why does Gravity make the apple fall?’
Isaac Newton, wise, died a pious Catholic seeing no quarrel here between law, origin and purpose.
‘Space was the Sensorium of an omnipresent God’ was what he wrote to Wilhelm Leibniz, a co-founder of Modern Logic and the Calculus. [Calculus? You know, that business about ‘Tending to Zero’.]
‘That’s ancient stuff’ you say ‘It’s not Gravity; it’s Space-Time. Matter tells Space-Time how to curve and curved Space-Time tells Matter how to move’. Nice. So who kicked the ball first? [Hey! What difference does it make?]
What was there before the ‘Big Bang’? And where did the Monkey come from that Man descends from? What caused the butterfly to whip his wings in Brazil that it can whip me up a tornado in Dakota?
The visible part of the Electromagnetic Spectrum is about a third of one percent. ‘Real’ seems a dodgy idea to me if my visibility blanks out at 0.3 %. [Where did the Universe go?]
So is the sky out there blue? Or is it right here, the electro-chemical rinse coursing along my neurons as I look?
If my body temperature changes by a measly 6 degrees F, I pass out. [I’m still looking for my ‘Consciousness’ in the rest of the range.]
Why does the gene reproduce? Because it has to compulsively replicate itself in some form or other. Why does it compulsively have to replicate itself in some form or other? Well, that’s an easy one. That’s because Nature’s primary goal happens to be Self-Preservation [well, now you know].
What defends the ‘Conservation Principles’ of Physics [or the classes of Classical Logic] which themselves underived from the laws of Physics [of Logic], arbiter the entry of laws into Physics [into Logic]?
Our rules of arithmetic repeatedly fumble at the ‘Measured Speed of Light’. And a large helping of words like ‘Infinity’ [and Zero] are needed to hold the equations in place [‘An infinite amount of Mass is required to…’].
Very slippery words which the Ancients had serious problems with. And we, blithely, don’t. [So what does addition mean? See the posts on Kurt Godel]
‘Ask the lady in the corner office’ says the annoyed Scientist. ‘These are questions above my pay-grade. Science is not designed to answer stuff like that’.
‘The Objectivation Principle-the hypothesis of the real world..is a simplification where without being aware of it, we exclude the subject of cognizance from the Nature that we endeavor to understand.. which by this very procedure becomes the objective world.
At the end ..I put myself which had constructed the world as a mental product, back into it- with the pandemonium of disastrous logical consequences that flow from this chain of faulty reasoning..
The antinomy cannot be solved at the level of present day Science..[which is] entirely engulfed [in it]- without knowing it..Science must be made anew..’
‘Although the Theory of Relativity makes the greatest demands on the ability of abstract thought, still it permits the traditional requirement of Science, as it permits a division of the world into Subject and Object and hence a clear formulation of the Laws of Causality.
This is the very point at which the difficulties of the Quantum Theory begin’.
Elsewhere, on the method of proper observation, he writes:
‘What we observe is not Nature in itself but Nature exposed to our method of questioning’.
Hold on to that insight as you read these posts.
I liked the way Haldane put it:
‘My own suspicion is that the universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose‘.
A vital distinction. As for its path to acceptance:
‘I suppose the process of acceptance will pass through the usual four stages: a) This is worthless nonsense b) This is an interesting, but perverse, point of view, c) This is true, but quite unimportant, d) I always said so.’
Thought, Mind and Consciousness: The Meta-trinity. There are two aspects which define the Meta-Trinity.
Their self-referential nature, a repeated readiness to slip into the Self-Loop. And their intimate, inviolable relationship to ‘Me’.
The elements of the Meta-Trinity, the epicenter of self-reference, are nothing if not fecund and vigorous [‘The Empty Mirror’].
Do you know what at a ‘Thought’ is? I don’t. [But then, nor do Universities which do a fine trade in refining it.]
The problem is that every time I work up a thought to nail this buzzing fly called ‘Thought’, I am squarely in the Self-Loop.
The Self-Loop is ‘I’ seeking ‘Me’.
This thing I have nailed as ‘Thought’ by thinking about it, by that very fact, cannot be ‘Thought’.
It’s origin is unknown [grab that next thought please, and ask it where it came from].
It’s stage can’t be located. [Inside my head? Beneath the sink? In Kiev?]
It’s terminus is not found. [Where do all those thoughts go, like stairs in an escalator?].
I can’t see it. I can’t hear it. I can’t smell it. And any thinking about it, muddles it more.
No self-respecting scientist would take seriously something to which he cannot give the simplest of coordinates.
Is :’Don’t Think!’ a Thought? Or Not? What do you Think?
There is nothing I understand less than this thing called ‘Thought’. Yet nothing is more real to me than this which I understand the least.
Dodgy Fellow, this ‘Thought’. So try and not think a thought for the next sixty seconds.
[I cannot deny you the smile. At least one noted Philosopher majisterially defines a Philosopher as one who: ‘Thinks about Thinking’. It is roundly celebrated in academic circles as marking a penetrating summary insight.]
Is there anything I am absolutely sure about?
The moon-landing was faked. Doughnuts widen arteries. My mother really loves me. Perhaps, perhaps not.
But I don’t have these insidious doubts about whose thoughts are bouncing around in my head.
The thoughts in my head are my thoughts. What happens in my mind is mine! mine! mine!
There is nothing else on the planet that is so taken for granted as belonging to ‘Me’ as ‘My Thoughts’. That’s why it is so real. As long as I have my thoughts, I have me.
I can wear your cuff-links and you can borrow my cologne but my thought is my thought and your thought is your thought.
I might own a Bentley and only leg into silk underwear. But my thoughts are closer to me than both.
So it was that Rene Descartes, founder of Cartesian method and Father of Western Academic Philosophy exclaimed:
‘Thinking. At last I have discovered it- Thought. This alone is inseparable from me.’
‘I am Thinking. Therefore I am’: Cogito ergo sum.
Are you sure it is your thought you are thinking right now?
René Descartes, like Aristotle before him and Kant and Leibniz after, and in sharp contrast to most other philosophers, knew when he was edging the territory of the Self-Loop. His rationale was more nuanced than the standard academic bumper-sticker interpretation. I’ll get to it later in his less-known letters.
Immanuel Kant, whose roots go back directly to Aristotle, defined the domain of Academic Philosophy for over two centuries.
‘Thought’ proffered Immanuel Kant ‘is cognition by means of conception’.
What’s a ‘Conception’? That sounds like a difficult idea with more syllables. Let’s start with ‘Concept’.
A ‘Concept’ says the Dictionary, is a: ‘a General Notion or Idea; a Conception’.
Great. So what’s an ‘Idea’? The Dictionary says it’s a: ‘Thought, Conception or Notion.’
We’ll, OK. So what’s a ‘Conception’? The Dictionary says it’s a: ‘Notion, Idea, Concept’. [Dictionary.com. Check it out.]
Cognition is a concept. A Concept is that which is ‘conceptually differentiable’. But ‘conceptually differentiable’ is itself a concept.
A concept has a public understanding while ‘conception’ is just a private view. Yet concept is for you a conception and conception becomes a concept in the dictionary, unchanged regardless of who looks at it.
Concept; Conception; Concept of Conception; Conception of Concept. All Concepts; or are they Conceptions?
What is the ‘Orangeness’ in an Orange?
How do you miraculously, unhesitatingly, repeatedly manage to identify an Orange?
What is common between a sliced and a peeled Orange? A ripe and a rotten Orange? A nibbled Orange and a fresh one?
A picture of an Orange, the sound ‘Orange Juice’, the taste of Orange pop, the smell of Orange peel, the touch of Orange pip, the letters ‘O R A N G E’, on a page. The negation: ‘Not-Orange’.
Orangeness is an idea, a concept. A thought.
‘I don’t exactly know what Orangeness is, Professor, but I sure know how to pick an Orange. Or do I?’
When Thaetetus asks Socrates to describe ‘ Thinking’, Socrates replies:
‘As a discourse that the mind carries on with itself about any subject it is considering.
You must take this explanation as coming from an ignoramus. but I have a notion that, when the mind is thinking, it is simply talking to itself, asking questions and answering them, and saying yes or no.
When it reaches a decision-which may come slowly or in a sudden rush-when doubt is over and the two voices affirm the same thing, then we call that its ‘judgment.’
So I should describe thinking as discourse, and judgment as a statement pronounced, not aloud to someone else but silently to oneself.‘
I can silently unfold the phrase: ‘Elvis Lives!’ in my mind syllable by syllable in complete comprehension of its meaning.
Mental Verbalization is ‘I’ talking to ‘Me’. Monologue as Dialogue.
Ludwig Wittgenstein wrote: ‘When I think in Language there are not meanings going through my mind in addition to the verbal expressions: the language is itself the vehicle of thought’.
Professors have made a nice living arguing about what a ‘Thought’ and a ‘Concept’ is for centuries [using Thought and Concept, of course.]
But here was Wittgenstein saying it’s all mostly words. This mysterious thing we called ‘Thinking’ is made up of just plain old words. Games we play with words.
Don’t believe him of course. Get back on the Meditation Mat and Sit.
[See the later posts on Sign, Semiotics, Semantics and Language. I don’t think I have them up on the Site yet. If not, they should be up shortly.]
Here he is from one of his later works:
‘It is of the essence of our investigation that we do not seek to learn anything new by it. We want to understand something that is already in plain view. For this is what we seem..not to understand.
[The].. a priori order of the World, it seems must be utterly simple.. it is prior to all experience, must run through all experience..as it were the hardest thing there is.
The aspect of things that are most important..are hidden because of their simplicity and familiarity. One is unable to notice something because it is always before one’s eyes. The real foundation of his inquiry do not strike a man at all unless that fact has at some time struck him.‘
Japanese Zen Training especially in the Martial Arts seeks a state it calls Mushin [‘No-Mind, No-Thought], a readiness for combat marked by a subsiding of this Dialogue. The Chinese synonym, Wuxin, begins with the character for ‘Not’.
As with everything else the idea has taken a life of its own in the hands of pop philosophers. There is nothing ‘wrong’ with Thought; nothing very ‘right’ either. Both ideas are themselves rooted in ‘Thought’. You need to work through the Self-Negating Expression to let it reveal itself. Try: ‘All Thoughts Miscue’-itself a ‘Thought’.
Homer’s Odyssey begins with the word ‘Man’ [Andra, from the Attic-Greek Aner, as inthe English Anthropo]. Let’s go see if we can find the fella.
The word ‘Man’ derives from a root [as in the Sanskrit Manush, Manas] that says: ‘That which has Mind’ or more literally, ‘That which thinks’.
How is ‘Man’ different say, from a Mattress? Man is different because Man alone has Mind. This has been the traditional answer since antiquity.
The defining attribute of Man is his Mind. And with this Mind, Man constructs his World as Model. And its central character is his model of himself as ‘Man’.
‘The Universe belies you‘ wrote Voltaire the passionate skeptic, ‘and your heart refutes a hundred times your mind’s conceit‘.
I don’t know what Mind is. But I do know this. Every time I say: ‘Gotcha!’, every time I use Mind to hold forth on the Nature of Mind, I am back in the whirl of the Self-Loop.
Very wise-men have been trying to get a handle on this thing called ‘Mind’ for a few millennia and have gotten nowhere. Divine origin? The center of cognition, emotion and volition? The firing of synapse on brain tissue?
But this ‘Mind’ of mine [which of course I know exists] keeps giving me the slip. And to further confuse matters, knowing folks say that Mind is also the depository of ‘Thought’, the dodgy character we just met.
I can’t see it, hear it, smell it, taste it, touch it. And yet, darn it all, it feels awfully real and tangible to me. This ghost behind my nose and between my ears.
And anything I pick and label as ‘Mind’ using this Mind of mine cannot be Mind, can be anything but Mind.
So. ‘What is ‘Mind’? As I said, that’s about where the wise-men left it.
Everytime I feel dispirited about the future of this creature called ‘Man’, I reach for this learned quote:
‘One aspect that sharply differentiates Man from Nature is his highly developed capacity for thought, feeling and deliberate action. Here and there in other animals, rudiments of this capacity may occasionally be found, but the full blown development that is called Mind is unmatched elsewhere in Nature‘.
We don’t quite know if a Giraffe has a Mind. But we are absolutely sure that we have one. Our Mind told us so.
The word ‘Model’ is etymologically related to the Sanskrit Maya, from the root Ma: To Build’ and Manas [an early version of the modern: ‘Mind’].
A ‘Model’ is a creation, a re-construction of the original, not the real-thing but its re-presentation. A Model of Reality, not the Real McCoy.
A toy-car is a model. So is a doll’s-house. But the most important models are mental-models, the ones we build inside our heads using things that ‘double’.
Sign and Symbol that refer and come alive in such building blocks as the Alphabet, the Number System and other such kits of complex referencing signs. All mediums in fact conducive to referential traffic.
An understanding built on Assumptions and corresponding Beliefs and [necessarily] expressed in the vocabulary of Signs and Symbols [typically Language and Logic] is called a ‘Model’.
So what is my First Assumption? That there is such a thing as a ‘Me’ with such things called ‘Assumptions’ stuffed inside my head. Sort of like socks in a drawer.
In the hands of an accomplished architect, the complex architecture of building a house made up of ‘Subjects’ and ‘Objects’ can be an intricate, layered piece of Art. The sprawling and sophisticated intellectual frame that directs and defends our entire contemporary way of thinking and living. Our ‘Man-Made Modeled World.
‘Consciousness’: from the Latin ‘Con Scire‘: ‘to be awake; to know’; and related to Cognitionem, as in the words ‘Cognition’ and ‘Science’.
The First Law of Consciousness states that you may not investigate your consciousness while being in an actively conscious state.
If you can consciously point to something as your ‘Consciousness’, by that very fact, what you have pointed to cannot be your consciousness.
You cannot be conscious of being ‘Conscious’. You can be conscious. That’s it.
To be conscious of being ‘Conscious’ is the high road to fatal self-contradictions. An unwarranted, illegitimate doubling that makes what is simple and unclouded into a belligerent complexity.
You cannot, however hard you blink, wiggle or scheme, stand outside Consciousness to orate upon it. If you feel hemmed in, that is the idea.
If you can convincingly hold-forth on the conscious ‘Unconscious’ in addition to the merits of mentating about Mind, your talent should not go unnoticed. The most convincing Couch Therapists all live on Park Avenue.
Listened in recently on a major convention of international scientists on ‘Consciousness and Science’ [I think that’s what the title was] in India, presided over by the Dalai Lama. The word Self-Reference, let alone the Self-Loop, never occurred even once.
The convention was major news in the media for weeks. The Scientists, it said, were close to cracking the code. I need a beer.
You know, there is actually a book titled ‘Consciousness Explained’ by a chaired professor of a famous university. I can’t wait to buy it once it is out on paperback. I’ll let you know.
The idea of Consciousness, its centrality in the minds of the most influential modern thinkers, has never been fully appreciated. Nor their short-stops.
So come with me now to Königsberg, Prussia, circa 1750 CE.
Immanuel Kant from his ‘Critique of Pure Reason’, a volume that helped mark the domain of Academic Philosophy for several generations:
‘The ‘I Think’ must accompany all my representations..I call it pure apperception..because it is a Self-Consciousness..it is in all acts of Consciousness one and the same and unaccompanied by it no representation can exist for me.
The unity of this apperception I call the Transcendental Unity of Self- Consciousness..and this principle..is the highest principle in all human cognition.’
So how does this ‘Unity’ catch itself?
[Kant, unlike most philosophers, was well aware of the Self-Loop. I’ll get to it in later Posts]
Were not done yet. Step into my old Porche Convertible for a long drive south to Hanover, Germany, a 1,000 kilometers and a 100 years away. Let’s go meet Dr. Wilhelm Leibniz.
Here is Dr. Leibniz on his celebrated ‘Twin Truths’:
‘The immediate awareness of our existence and our thoughts furnishes us with the first a posteriori truths, or truths of Fact, the first experiences, while identical propositions embody the first a priori truths, or truths of Reason, the first illuminations.
Neither admits of proof and each may be called immediate.’
‘Transcendental Unity of Self-Consciousness’? ‘The immediate awareness of our existence and our thoughts’?
No. We are not in the Himalayas amidst a mystical mountain-sect. Nor the corner of Haight and Ashbury.
We are in Hanover, at the Study of Dr. Wilhelm von Leibniz, a founder of Modern Logic and the Mathematical Calculus. [If you want someone to blame for your shoddy grades in Math, here’s the man.]
So. Am I ‘immediately aware’ of my ‘Immediate Awareness’?
Goofy vividly demonstrating the Self-Loop
I can Understand; but I may not try to Understand ‘Understanding’.
I can do a lot of things with ‘Understanding’. But I may not try to Understand it.
Mind may not mentate about Mind. You can mentate about all things in this great and grand universe of ours. But you may not mentate about Mind.
Consciousness may not grasp at consciousness. Thought may not seek its beginnings in another thought. Concept may not conceive itself in another concept.
Logical Symbol may not grasp for its genealogy using other symbols of Logic, nor Mathematics in the axioms of Mathematics.
Language may not seek its source using Language. Word may not seek its meaning through other words.
I may not seek for the definition of the word ‘Knowledge’ while in the ‘Know’. I may not search for the ground of ‘Being’ while in the ‘Be’.
And ‘I’ may not inquire about ‘Me’.
So what happens if I do? Does the sky collapse? Do the mountains crumble? No. Something much more strange.
The Axioms of Sight: ‘I cannot see what see’s. Anything I see, by that very fact, is not what see’s.
The Axioms of Sight are the Inviolable Virgin Twins. If I get any one of them pregnant, I then: ‘Give Birth to Myself’.
I look into a mirror. And I am absolutely certain that what I see is the source of my vision. I have violated the Virgin.
In claiming to see my own eye, I become an Object to myself as Subject. I double, I multiply and divide, while all the time remaining myself.
The fall into the Self-Loop. The ‘Cycle of Birth and Death’.
You possess this wondrous thing called ‘Mind’. Right here, atop the synapse and betwixt the neuron.
You model yourself and the world around you in great sweeps of analytic glee. And then the conflicts and contradictions show-up.
No fear. You simply turn this formidable apparatus, this ‘Mind’, on ‘Mind’ itself. [A spot of grease should fix things nicely.]
You just violated the Virgin. You are re-born [‘Born-Again’!].
You only have two practical options. One is to continue using ‘Mind’ as if you understood what ‘Mind’ was, which is what most of us do. That’s the same as implicitly ‘Turning Mind on Mind’ in an un-investigated presumption of knowing what it is.
The other is to buy yourself a durable Meditation Mat.
[Do not confound the Self-Loop with domesticated, general-issue fallacies like ‘Circular Reasoning’ and such [a truncation far short of Shūnyam]. I’ll get to them when we look at the ground assumptions of Epistemology and Ontology.]
The first and fundamental presumption of Formal Inquiry is the accepted convention, the unstated conviction, of the presence of an inquiring Subject ‘Independent and Separate’ from the investigated Object.
Every known ‘First Principle’, in Philosophy, in Logic, in Language, in Science, in Art, takes life atop this platform.
It is meaningless to talk of ‘Inquiry’ if the Subject is conjoined with the Object of Inquiry. But then, the word ‘Meaning’ itself is predicated on the presence of a ‘Me’.
[Nature rebels at zero correlations; try and find one. But anoint yourself ‘Independent’ and you’ll be granted this exclusive lie. There is no such state as ‘partially independent’. I hear this thrown around a lot. The correlation is either Zero or Non-Zero.]
We can spend decades testing an academic assumption that underpins a trite theory. But skip out on testing this first presumption that precedes the posit of Theory itself.
The Tradition of Formal Inquiry declares that among equally valid explanations, the one with the least assumptions wins. And he who needs the additional assumption gets to defend it. The burden of proof rests with the claimant.
Especially on one as bizarre as this, the claim to an: ‘Independent and Separate Observer, Self, Subject’. But we shall not quibble. And we shall not whine.
This Parsimony Principle goes back to before Aristotle in the Western Tradition. The most recent variant is ‘Occam’s Razor’, very popular with intellectuals who revel in obscure Latin inserts: Entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem.
Unlike its ancestor the Monastery, every subject taught at a Modern University begins with implicit, mostly unstated ‘First Principles’.
They range from the thoughtful to the fearlessly flippant. [Most Inquiry however cheerfully begins well-past all ‘First Principles’]
All ‘First Principles’ however carry legitimacy only when mounted on the critically important ‘First Presumption’ that there is an ‘Independent and Separate Observer, Self, Subject’.
The professors are unlikely to remember what they are; ask the lady at the front-desk for the ‘First Principles List’ and wreck her day.
Methods of Inquiry that have immediate credibility to the modern-ear begin with the early Greek philosophers.
Inquiry must begin, they said, with the assertion of Axiom, the investigative analogue of the atom. [You can’t prove an Axiom. Bad idea. The idea of ‘proof’ itself is rooted in an Axiom. But people try all the time.]
But in most cases we have to settle for the Assumption. In a fogged-in world it is the reasonable man’s truth. We carry around a head-full, inherited, acquired, imposed. And often our deepest convictions begin in the flimsiest of assumptions.
An Assumption unlike an Axiom, ranks way down on the conviction-meter. This is the world of Belief. You can believe, partially believe or disbelieve an idea. You can never be sure of how true it is. Beliefs go along with Assumptions; where you find one, you’ll find the other.
Experts know a great deal. The sage knows less and less, as his assumption base keeps getting chipped away. Wisdom digs down. Expertise builds up. [No, I would not have the sage fix my stalled refrigerator.]
A good [not to be confused with ‘Higher’] education gives you the confidence to systematically look your Assumptions and Beliefs in the eye. And not because you can now locate Sudan on a map.
[To elaborate breezily on Model as an ‘Interpretation’ and equate a Modeled-Reality to an ‘Interpreted Reality’ is to miss the point. The very notion of ‘Interpretation’ is a Modeled-Idea. As is the notion of ‘Model’. [Fresh Academics and Deconstructionists are the most su
Shūnyam is not a Model. It does not mount on assumptions, nor take life in ‘Belief’, is not extended in binary divides, is not a concept, is not an idea.
[Christopher Hitchen’s the late, lucid polemicist had a more contemporary take on the Parsimony Principle designed for his style of diatribe: ‘What can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence.’ There are others floating around. It’s a powerful, oft-ignored requirement and dismissing it is the first step to sophistry.]
University, from the Latin: Universus, ‘Whole’.
Did you know that by most reliable accounts the world’s oldest University still giving courses is Bologna, founded in 1088 C.E.?
And that it originated in the monastic schools that had been active for nearly 400 years until the University was established?
No? And you have a degree from Oxford [1167 C.E.]?
In those days, you dictated your risky love-letter to a monk who wrote it and passed it on, to be read to the ear of your Beloved by an equally celibate monk. Difficult days.
Now what did monks in the 11th century do when not making fine brandies. Monks meditate, navel-gaze, step ‘Backward’, go ‘Inward’.
When was the last time your Philosophy Professor suggested a moment’s quiet breathing before discussing the ‘Meaning of Meaning’? Ten minutes of Formal Meditation preceding John Rawls?
You can do a Doctorate in Philosophy today in the best universities without ever raising the question of the ‘Subject’ doing the Inquiry.
If you suggest that it may be relevant, the Professor will likely take you aside and suggest that you might be better suited for Art History.
[The word ‘University’, in spite of its loose use, is a very specific term for an institution that birthed in the Western historical and religious tradition. There were Instituitions of Learning that predated the specific concept of the University, Nalanda or Takshasheela, for example, but they are not to be called ‘Universities’.]
In the best known lines from Plato’s Phaedrus:
‘But I [Socrates] have no leisure for them [other inquiries] at all.
And the reason, my friend, is this: I am not yet able, as the Delphic inscription [Gnothi Seauton] has it, to know myself; so it seems to me ridiculous, when I do not yet know that, to investigate irrelevant things.‘
The word Pundit [Puṇḍita], a scholar, learned teacher, has its roots in the first Vedic texts. The English word ‘Professor’ derives from the medieval Latin Prō-fitērī: ‘To acknowledge, confess, avow a religious order’.
If you were educated as a member of the Learned Class, you were educated in the ways of the religious order that provided you the education. A Modern Liberal Education, wouldn’t you know, was originally conceived as culminating in this momentous achievement.
The beneficiary of a ‘Liberal Education’ in contrast to a technical one or a guild apprenticeship was ‘liberated’ [Latin Liber, ‘Free’] from common blinders and conventional prejudices. A Liberal Education completed and displayed the Finished Man [Liberalis evolved to mean ‘Noble’].
A good education [not to be confused with ‘higher’] gives you the confidence to look your assumptions and beliefs in the eye. It’s really not about knowing the difference between Fahrenheit and Centigrade or the geographic co-ordinates of Khartoum.
The idea is long in the trash, and the Finished Man is now a Gentleman who can properly tie a Windsor-knot. But that was not the beginning idea.
[I’d still rather share a Table with a Gentleman.]
If your pulse doesn’t race, you should be seeing a Doctor
Mastroianni, Anita Ekberg, Fellini’s: ‘La Dolce Vita’
My entire school education on Buddhism was summarized in the travesty of insight: ‘Desire is the cause of all suffering’.
So how does one: ‘Desire to Not-Desire’?
[‘Desire is the cause of all suffering’ is a literal take on the Buddhist ‘Second Noble Truth’, if you are curious as to where this beam of light came from.]
‘Detachment’ is the single most emphasized injunction in the Dharma. So how do you intend to detach if you are attached to ‘Detachment’?
How do you play ‘Hide and Seek’ with yourself?
What denatured Elysium do these pilgrims seek sans wine, women and earthly-folly?
If you can say: ‘I am asleep!’, that’s convincing evidence that you are awake.
The distinction of ‘Awake’ and ‘Asleep’ is always and only made in a wakeful state.
I tell you about my dream when, and only when, both of us are awake. We know nothing about ‘Dream’ and ‘Sleep’ except as very wakeful ideas.
[Doctors reassuringly measure sleep-meters only when they are awake, thank you very much.]
None of this hair-splitting lessens the veracity of my pronouncement today that I slept like a baby last night.
We can give the Divide some more Gravitas. All talk of ‘Death’ is always and only done when ‘Alive’. You just can’t wink your way out of this one.
You really know nothing about ‘Death’ except as gossip from some very alive people.
And just as I hold forth on ‘Death’ while firmly ‘Alive’, just as I embellish my last night’s dream while wide awake, I create the divide of ‘I’ and ‘Not-I’ while firmly setting my tush down on one end of the self-same construction.
All this is in effect a sleight-of-hand, a fast wave of the hand-kerchief by the Divide-Magician who hopes you are not looking too closely.
But this slip when carried forward in sprees of grand abstract elaborations [as in the University ] can get seriously misleading. If you start telescoping such situations, soon enough you will have totally lost the thread.
Yet no amount of double-talk will convince me otherwise that my dear great-aunt, bless her good soul, is resolutely dead.
If you ask a Librarian to show you the section with the Upanishads and Sūtras, the nice lady is likely to point you to the shelves marked ‘Religion’.
But these compilations are documents of Inquiry characterized by trial and error, not claim and faith. They were the obsessions of the Learned. Your normal healthy farm-boy will find it all quite batty.
The search for some Grounding Truth is Man’s first investigative journey. And the First Inquirers were the men and women of Religion. We aren’t so smart to have newly awoken to it for the first time.
Shūnyam does not lead you up the mountain or into a cave. It unloads you at Life, unrehearsed. And there is nothing in the Human Condition however exalted, muddled, banal or depraved that is not intimate with it.
Nor is Shūnyam against the comforts, consolations and beatitudes of the rituals of the sacred. [Its exploration was not as high philosophy or the limit of inquiry but as a point of Refuge.] And you don’t know what Piety or Reverence mean, except as camouflaged petitionary acts, until you are in sight of Shūnyam.
But put an early religious spin on Shūnyam and you will miss. And in this business, you miss by a milli-meter, you miss by a mile.
‘Nothing holy’, replied Bodhidharman [around 500 CE], when Emperor Wu asked him; ‘What is holy truth?’
There is nothing holy, religious, sacred, spiritual, esoteric or mystical about Shūnyam. To limit it so would be to abase its Truth. [There is nothing earthy, profane or banal about it either. But that is less often the slip.]
Indian records are sketchy as is the norm. We know Bodhidharman cited from the Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra, [Lanka, as in Sri Lanka today] a later tradition to the Prajñā Pāramitha.
Chinese chroniclers [Tánlín, Dàoxuān, circa 550 CE] identify him as: ‘The third son of a nobleman of firm Brahman stock from South India’.
Given what we know of dynasties and trade-routes, he was most likely from Kāñcipuram, the then capital of the Pallavas. No shrines, no stupas, no sign-boards, the last time I checked. No one remembers anymore.
Kāñcipuram, seat of the Śaṅkarācārya, my maternal family Guru. I haven’t been back in a long time.
The summary expression of Vedic insight is Tát [‘That’]. The Symbol ‘0’ [Shūnyam] is simply the Logical Form of ‘That’ taken to its natural, necessary and inevitable limit.
It is explicit, irreducible, achievable and verifiable. And unlike with ‘That’, long cloaked in an occult opacity, you cannot fudge it. You either sight Shūnyam or you don’t. Like the Nerds say: ‘It’s a ‘0,1’ thing’.
‘That’ is an Expression of Inexpressibility. A self-scuttling assertion in negation, an immediate, unregenerate self-contradiction. It is neither noun nor verb, is grammatically homeless, a lexicographer’s nightmare, and meant to be so.
Point a finger, draw a line, say a word, think a thought, emote a feeling towards ‘That’ and by that very act, what you have pointed a finger to, drawn a line of, said, thought, emoted, is not ‘That’.
It includes all markers, any and every whiff of presumption to identity. Aspects, elements, endowments, features, qualities, temperament, tendencies. You may not source it for ethical or social directives [rules], go philosophical or poetic on its attributes…
The Summum Bonum of Dharmic Teaching is: Tát Tvam Asi, the same Tát [‘That’] of the Rig Veda. In translation: ‘That are’t Thou’.
‘That’ is synonymous with Brahman, from the root ‘Brh‘, ‘To Uphold, Support’. Brahman is ‘That which upholds’, originally a Mantric expression for Yagnic formalities before it took on metaphysical meanings.
Para Brahman [the ‘Highest Expression’] of Brahman was as Nirguṇa Brahman: ‘Brahman without attributes’. If something doesn’t have attributes you cannot express it. Except as Self-Negating Expression.
I cannot say anything about ‘That’. Anything I say about ‘That’, by that very fact is not ‘That’. Effecting this yields the Logical Form of the Self-Negating Expression.
The Buddha famously held his Silence [Mounam, Avyākṛta, Anirvacaniya] to all questions about the nature of his denouement.
‘This Unformulated Principle‘ says the Diamond Sutra ‘is Uncontainable and Inexpressible’. [‘Unformulated Principle‘? Formulation is the essence of Principle. Is that a Self-Negating Expression sneaking by?]
Siddhartha Gautama’s chosen name for himself was not as ‘The Buddha’ [a later appellation] but as the Tát-āgathā [literally, ‘That-Gone’] again, the same Tát [‘That’] of the Rig Veda.
And it has the same intent as: Tát Tvam Asi [‘That are’t Thou’], but one taken to its necessary limit of investigation. In the highest tradition of the Buddha-Dharma one does not worship The Buddha, which is easy enough. The struggle is to become a Tat-āgatha.
A Tát-āgathā is one: ‘Entered in Tát’ [‘That’]. It says nothing about any ‘Object’ [such as an imagined ‘That’]. It is all about the Subject. Or rather, the absence of it.
‘Self’ [‘Thou’] as used in the Upanishads was a mystical term [as in the ‘Subtle Inner Essence’ of the Chandogya]. In the Buddhist Sūtric articulation it is consistently an empirical one.
It is not simply to be asserted but directly observed in undeniable inferential link. That is, as an identifiable Subject in counterpoint to an identified Object.
It [Anatman] is the key element that differentiates the literature of the Buddha-Dharma from its Vedic roots .
Lets wander a bit, East and West of ‘That’.
Tát [‘That’] as an ‘Expression of Inexpressibility’ is the pivotal expression in the Dharmic Tradition. But there is no serious tradition that does not carry it, or some close variant of it.
From the opening line of the opening verse of the Tao Te Ching:
‘The True Tao is nameless; what is named is not the True Tao. The True Tao cannot be told; what is told is not the True Tao’.
Tao is a Self-Eating Expression.
The central directive of Taoism is to live a life based on Wie Wu Wei: ‘Doing Not-Doing’. A Self-Negating Expression. Of Course.
[Lao Tzu [circa 5th Century BCE, literally, ‘Old Master’] founded Taoism, the first philosophy of China. Lao Tzu didn’t prissy around. First he declares that the true Tao is nameless, then adds that nothing may be said about it. All in the opening verse. Then he proceeds to write his poem naming and telling all about the Tao. Sort of like this Site.]
The opening Koan from the venerated Mumonkon Collection is: ‘Joshu’s Mu!’. It is in response to the question: ‘Does a dog have Buddha-Nature?’.
Joshu’s ‘Mu!’ is a negative particle, a vociferous assertion of negation. The driving kinetic of its terse formulation is its simultaneous self-consumption. Literally, ‘Nothing’. [I think it was Hakuin who wrote that all of Zen was contained in Mu]
Bodhidharman defined the ends of C’han-Zen Practice as follows: ‘A special transmission outside the scriptures; no dependence on words and letters; seeing into one’s Self-Nature, and the attaining of Buddha-hood.’
Again from the Mumonkan:
Daibai asked Baso: ‘What is the Buddha?’
Baso answered: ‘The mind is the Buddha.’
A monk asked Baso: ‘What is the Buddha?’
Baso replied: ‘Not mind, not Buddha.’
Note that the better Koans never mark an identifiable terminus. It dates back to the founding of the Tradition itself.
Aristotle is the pioneering formulator of precise, cogent, hugely influential models of reality. From the elementary notion of ‘Substance’ to the most cogent defense of the Principle of Contradiction [‘The first principle of analytical cognition’, as he put it. See the later Posts].
They lasted well past Copernicus. Immanuel Kant’s pioneering work which dominated European Academic Philosophy for over two hundred years began with Aristotle. [I’ll get to his seminal ‘Critique of Pure Reason’. Fun stuff.]
But oddly enough, Aristotle installed a very strange fellow, an indecipherable creature in-fact, in the sanctum-sanctorum of his scrupulous, logically precise modeled world.
From Aristotle’s Metaphysics:
‘There is therefore also an Unmoved-Mover, being eternal, primary and in act..the first mover is a necessary Being..and is thus a first principle, for there is always a mover of things moved, and the first mover is itself unmoved.’
Aristotle’s ‘God’: The ‘Unmoved Mover’. Do you sight the Self-Loop?
The pivotal notions of Identifiability and Expressibility in the Dharmic Tradition combine to become the notion of Association or ‘Granting Partnership’ in the Abrahamic literature [Hebrew Shituf, Arabic Shirk].
‘Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live‘ [Exodus: 33].
St Augustine [354-430 CE] arguably the most influential theologian of the later Western Christian Tradition [and whose roots were Neo-Platonic] famously wrote:
‘The best thing that man can say about God is to be able to be silent about Him, from the wisdom of his inner judgement. Therefore be silent and prate not about God, for whenever thou dost prate about God, thou liest, and committest sin. If thou wilt be without sin, prate not about God. Thou canst understand nought about God, for He is above all understanding. A master saith: If I had a God whom I could understand, I would never hold Him to be God’.
Orthodox Jews remove the vowels [YHWH] to limit expression, hence presumption, on the nature of Yahweh, of G-d [Elohim], a central theme of the Hebrew Torah. [‘Ten Sayings’; aseret ha-d’varîm].
The Aramaic Alaha, the common name for the Divine in the language that Jesus spoke, is in turn related to the Arabic Allah: ‘The God’, and the Hebrew: Eloah [Elohim, Elohai]. It was originally a loose reference to a regional deity and in-time appropriated into emerging Islam.
The principle prayer of Islam, the Shahadah reads:
‘La Ilaha il al-Lah’: ‘There is no God if it be not the God’.
It is an informed rendering of insight as Self-Eating Expression meant for the trained ear and in the language of the day. [But try explaining that to a modern day Mullah].
You may never re-present [express] Al-lah, the fundamental sin of Islam [Shirk]. ‘Allah forgives not that partners should be set up with Him, but He forgives anything else, to whom He pleases, to set up partners with Allah is to devise a sin most heinous indeed’ (Qur’an 4:48). The Kaaba in Mecca is an empty cube.
Within the Abrahamic Tradition you will see Inexpressibility at the heart of the parallel Mystic schools. And unlike in the Orthodox traditions here it was left free to unfold and not forced into a literal or contorted mythic template.
The Qabballah of the Jews; the Taṣawwuf [Sufism] of the Muslims; the Gnostic Texts of Christianity. Key mystic terms like the Jewish Aleph and the Islamic Fana originate here.
The final stage of practice in high Sufism is termed Fana al-Fana, the ‘Annihilation of Annihilation itself’. A Self-Negating Expression, naturally, necessarily.
The Neo-Platonic ‘One’ of Plotinus [sourced in Plato’s Parmenides] was the dominant European Mystical Tradition for a millennia. It was a principal influence on everyone from Thomas Aquinas to Meister Eckhart [‘God is ‘Namelessness’, wrote Eckhart who taught Aristotle at the Sorbonne, and promptly got arraigned by the Vatican].
Reality, wrote Plotinus was: ‘A Nameless Unity, indescribable, undefinable.. never known measure, stands outside number..is under no limit of any kind..is Everything and Nothing..’.
Perhaps no other Mystic influenced all three of the Abrahamic faiths as comprehensively as Plotinus [203-270]. He famously joined Gordian’s march on Persia in order to find his way to India. The campaign failed and he returned to Antioch. In 3rd Century Bharat, the understanding of Shūnyam was still not entirely dead; it would have been a worthwhile visit.
Hinduism has no principal holy-scripture, no founding sage, no required observance, no pope nor doctrine of papal infallibility, no founding prophets who knew the answer.
[Perhaps because of this it has more holy-men per-capita, so many woolly-eyed mystics and whining secularists stalk the streets that you watch your every step to not step on one.]
‘Hinduism’ itself is a new word largely unknown in Sanskrit text. A motley mix of Sanskrit, Greek and Persian [and a river], it is meant for the outsider looking in.
The Kanchi Paramacharya [1894-1994], a sober and respected modern authority on the subject, reiterates a title emphasized in early times. The name of the tradition, he declares, is: ‘Nameless’.
Vishnu has a thousand names [Sahasranāmam] precisely because Vishnu is Nameless. The word ‘Nameless’ is simultaneously a name and a noun and an adjective about itself as a name and a noun. A meta-statement, a self-referential swivel.
There is no serious tradition that does not carry it, or some close variant of it. Is ‘Nameless’ a name? Or is it not a name? [Try it.] ‘Nameless’ is a Self-Eating Expression. And the Symbol ‘0’ is the paradigmatic Self-Eating Expression.
When Namelessness descends from the cryptic language of the early texts it needs to display in a way that viewers at various levels connect to it.
If the expression is visual, it has to be familiar yet not too familiar [just as ‘Nameless’ is a readable English word; see the Post on the Voyager messages]. A traditional deity has clearly recognizable human dimensions; but then spins off into the strange and the distant. It has arms, but more than two. Eyes, but many. And so on.
The figure on the right is Narasimha, an Avatar of Vishnu, the story told in the Bhagavatha Purana. Bent on his thigh is Hiranyakashipu, defiant and violent, who mocks his son, Prahlada, for his faith in the ubiquitous presence of Divinity.
Hiranyakashipu had through years of penance been granted a boon by the Gods that he, as he demanded, meet death ‘ Neither in Day or Night, neither on Earth or Sky, neither by Animal or Man, neither Indoors or Out…’ and so on.
Vishnu appears as Nara-Simha [Man-Lion] and at twilight, and seated on the threshold, disembowels Hiranyakashipu with his nail-claws.
You can make the symbolism very abstract and risk losing its meaning as happened with the Symbol ‘0’ or the Mantric expression AUM. Or you can go the other extreme and make it too familiar. [the modern deification of Celebrities has its roots here.]
The rendering of Jesus varies depending on the host-culture. From the standard authority-figure of Northern Europe, older male with white beard, to the Madonna expression, of Mother Mary and Infant Jesus in Latin America.
“Namelessness’ is articulated in many ways, in numerous layers, depending on the listener. [Upakausalya, ‘Skillful Means’: ‘to speak at the speed of listening of the listener’].
It can go from the abstract language of the Upanishads to folk renderings routinely held at every street corner in India before ignorance and luxury real-estate wiped them out.
Yājñavalkya talked of his Ātman as: ‘an endless infinite reality’ and simultaneously ‘an inner controller’; a ‘mass of intelligence’ which is also ‘the unattached and the undecaying’. An expressive circling around ‘That’.
He then went on to elaborate it in what would later be called Coincidentia Oppositorum, a notion extensively developed in later Mystical traditions, both Jewish and Islamic, but is best known from the Docta Ignoranta of the German scholar Nicholas of Cusa [1440 CE].
[For those who believe our best scientists are the new philosophers, Neils Bohr [Nobel, Physics, ’22] chose Contraria Sunt Complementa as the motto on his ‘Coat of Arms’.]
Yājñavalkya’s was abstract language as used in the millennia before the Buddha, itself descended from an earlier oral tradition that was now being documented in script.
Over the centuries, as this language becomes molded to the more concrete sensibilities of the interested listener, it makes an anthropomorphic bent [‘man-made’ and in the likeness of ‘Man’] accommodating the deeply cherished socio-cultural inheritances of the listener. We call this the magical reality, the necessary medium, of Myth.
This happens in every religious tradition and I have given illustrative extracts in the posts. [None of this is unique to the religious front. See the sections on Logic and Mathematics for its different avatars.]
I wrote this piece below on Shivam many years ago and display it here to show how this parallel is recast from the abstract to the tangible.
Shivam is the ideal deity, widely popular yet complex and sophisticated in its mythological and iconic construction. No other God in the Hindu Pantheon is clad in such a mix of seeming contradictions. I own an ancient Shiva Bronze, the prized centerpiece of my small Art collection.
‘His name is not uttered. It must not be mentioned ; only indirectly is He to be referred to.’ [Aitareya Brahmana, 3:34].
Shivam is the abstraction; Shiva, the personification in ecstatic bhakthi, in solemn ritual, in myth, metaphor and poetic spree.
A minor god, as is Vishnu, in the the Rig Veda, He grows, transforms as the guardian-deity of the truth of Rta [‘An inexpressible, uncodefied order’] to dominate the later Hindu pantheon.
Shiva the ‘Pacific, Waveless’, is also as Raudra, the ‘Howler’, the darkly fierce god of storms. He bestrides the contradiction, rides the conflict, raids the verses of the Rig Veda in unpeakable acts.
Sundarar [8th Century] in his poems routinely addresses Him as Pitha, literally ‘[You] Delirious Madman’. The Sthapathis [Sculptors] of Swamimalai ever struggle to make respectable this untamed ‘Wild God’, temper him for his devotees.
Shiva is both the ascetic and the erotic and representation radiates outwards. Absent to aniconic to iconic to the unabashedly anthropomorphic. The familiar Mandala sequence, cryptic to coherent, from center to perimeter. And back again.
At the great temple of Arunachala, Shiva is Lingabhava, a shaft of light without beginning or end. As Nataraja at Thillai, he strides the shrine at Chidambaram as the deity of the Dance. He bears on his right, the ear-ring of a man; on his left, that of a woman. His foot is a-step on the body of a dwarf [Apasmayapurusha: a ‘Heedlessness’].
The Third Eye of Shiva [Triyambaka] is set mid-point on the forehead, equidistant from the two corporal eyes. It stands unprotected, does not blink, is never closed. In its proper mythic interpretation, the Eye carries no eyelid [an irregularity quickly corrected by Bollywood poster-artists].
If you can get a fix on Shivam, if you can place Him, grasp Her, corral It, what you have placed, grasped, corralled, by that very fact, is not Shivam. [See: ‘That’]
As the Gudimallam Linga, the earliest excavated version [300 BCE; South Eastern India], Shiva stands astride a Linga, the two united in one mingled rendering. The grounded expression in stone of the altitudinous abstraction, the modeling artifact of the ‘Subject-Object’ divide, the primal cleaving.
The Shiva–Linga-Yoni [the minimalist rendering, encircled, below] is the original symbol of division and union. It is the principal representation in the temple-shrines of both the Vishwanatha in Kashi and the Brihadeashwara in Thanjavur. The Phallus, primal, primeval and universal in its symbolism and the receptive Feminine, the fount of all that is Create.
[The pious wince, preferring instead the Spatika Linga, a mild-mannered quartz-crytstal which reflects but is itself untouched, in analogue to the later ‘Immaculate Pure Self’ of Vedantha.]
The Third Eye of Shiva [Triyambaka] is set mid-point on the forehead, equidistant from the two corporal eyes. In its proper mythic interpretation, the Eye carries no eyelid [an irregularity quickly corrected by Bollywood poster-artists]. It stands unprotected, never blinks.
The sacral act of the Yajna was dismembering and reunification in the consuming flames of the altar, itself placed atop an earthen base, the original Mother rendered fecund by the Mantras. The symbolism is transparent and meant to be so.
And the sacred-ash, originally a mark of the imperative of self-naughting, now smeared over one’s forehead in cosmetic precision, a parallel of three lines [see the image].
The Shiva–Linga-Yoni as the original symbol of creation is now long forgotten replaced instead by imputed magical powers, divine flutter and superstitious cant, an ostensible piety.
I walk into a Śaṅkara Ashram, a Shaivite School, 1,500 years after its founding and watch the travesty of bright, earnest Brahmin boys whose calling it is to articulate Brahman, perfecting instead the rounding of the rolled rice-ball.
The circle is yet to be rounded. The self-scuttle stopped-short. Shūnyam unsighted. Shivam remains just a name.
‘What is Creation
What is seeking
And the end of seeking?
Who is the seeker?
And what has he found?
What is Freedom or Bondage?
What are holy books or teachings?
Who is the Disciple?
And who is the Master?
For I have no bounds
I am Shiva
Nothing arises in Me
Nothing is not,
What more is there to say?’
Translation by Thomas Byrom
Aṣṭāvakra: the Poet baring ‘Eight Bends’. He is reputed to have lived and studied alongside Svetaketu, son of Uddalaka who was the teacher of Yājñavalkya, part of our story. The poem is likely of much later origin and mixes various schools, including early Buddhist and later Vedanthic in its verses.
To have gained the Teaching is to abandon the Teaching.
If you haven’t gutted the Self-Eating Expression to empty, taken it all the way back to ‘True Nothing’, you aren’t done yet.
The Buddha didn’t think much of ascetics, god-men, philosophers or sages.
And he liked concrete metaphors. And this is the earliest concrete analogy of the hitherto abstract Self-Eating Expression. It is the central metaphor of the Buddha Dharma.
From the Diamond Sūtra:
‘My teaching of the Good Law is to be likened unto a raft. [Does a man who has safely crossed a flood upon a raft continue his journey carrying that raft upon his head?]
The Buddha-teaching must be relinquished; how much more so mis-teaching!’
You ‘Burn the Sūtras’ once their work is done. [You know any other Tradition that suggests its core Teachings be gotten rid of once grasped?]
The Self-Eating Expression is a linguistic device and the basic linguistic expression is the Assertion or Statement. And there are various ways to classify Statements. One of them is called the Chatushkoti [tetralemma, if you are partial to Greek].
It was widely used in the analytic Buddhist literature beginning the second century BCE but became prominent only after the rise of the Madhyamaka School.
The Self-Eating Expression: ‘I am not the Buddha’, was in fact taken to its sacrilegious point of doubt by some who questioned whether there ever was a Buddha in flesh and blood. A fair question given the substance of the Teachings.
If the questioner was annoyingly insistent, the response of the Scholar-Monks was set to the standard four-part template of the times:
‘The Buddha existed; did not exist; both existed and did not exist; neither existed, nor did not exist’. Siddhartha Gautama would have chuckled.
‘‘This’ or ‘Not-This’’ is a low level of Understanding. Human or Divine; Good or Bad; True or False; Free-Will or Fate; Wave or Particle.
Low grade theater and simple, unambiguous characters.
‘‘This’ and ‘Not-This’’ is the next stage. God and Man; Male and Female; Courageous and Cowardly; Position and Motion.
Good Theater with richer, complex characters.
Finally, ‘‘Neither ‘This’ nor ‘Not-This’’. Neither Heaven nor Hell; Neither True nor False; Neither Now nor Then; Neither Here nor There; Neither Orderly nor Random.
And finally, ‘That‘.
‘Be so kind as to not interrupt me while I am ignoring you’
Maharani Sita Kumari of Kapurthala [1915-2002], a then permanent resident on the ‘World’s Best Dressed’ list. [Just a little joke, your highness. I’m a die-hard Royalist.]
The Self Negating Expression is simply the generalized capture of a very specific Logical Form. What is Logical Form? When you fill in the question mark to the statement: ‘Bird is to plane as fish is to ?’, you have captured its Logical Form.
I could go on giving more examples. But I’ll save us both some time and instead display an old Post from my former [if very brief] days of activist writing:
What is common between:
The oldest posit of the Upaniṣads; the central metaphor of Buddhism; the opening lines of the opening verse of the Chinese Tao-Te-Ching [the first philosophy of China]; the opening Zen Koan from the Japanese Mumonkon; the final stage of Islamic Sufi Practice; the Synod of Nicaea [the first ecumenical meeting of the Catholic Church]; The Bhagavad Gita’s ideal Yogin; ‘Vishnu’s Dream’, the best-known of Puranic Myths; Ramana Maharishi, the preeminent Vedanthin’s principal teaching metaphor; The central directive of Taoism; the sarcophagus of ToutAnkhAmun; Friedrich Hegel’s definition of Philosophy; Immanuel Kant’s: ‘Critique’; Kurt Godel’s proof [‘The Most Significant Mathematical Discovery of the Century’]; Aristotle’s ‘God’; the ‘First Principle of all Analytic Cognition’; the grounding assumptions of Epistemology and Ontology; of Semiotics and Semantics and the ‘origins’ of Language…
OK. I’ll stop right here.
What’s common between them is that they all pivot on the logical form of the Self-Negating Expression. And each stands unwound to a varying degree of completion. I’ll get to each one, bye and bye.
[Depending on when the Post was written, I have used Self-Negating Expression and Self-Eating Expression alternatively and as perfect synonyms. I liked the acronym of the latter: ‘SEE’]
Finally a note of caution. A Self-Negating Expression is a handrail, an investigative tool meant to be unwound sequentially in the ‘Backward Step’. It is not to be stared at as a static logical complexity [as for example in the contemporary mathematical literature]. That just sinks you deeper into the swamp.
‘Mama, I am dead!’ is conclusive evidence that the kid is very much alive. ‘I don’t Exist!’ unwinds in a negation that throws you into the center of the vortex that is an Infinite Regress.
There are at least three levels of the lingual Self-Negating Expression, a useful distinction. First as the simple self-contradiction as in Aristotle’s ‘Unmover Mover’. These can be intuitively helpful but hard to work with.
Second, again from Aristotle, ‘All Things are False’, a phrase he uses in his celebrated defense of the Principal of Contradiction. Replace it with its better defined equivalent: ‘All Words are Meaningless’-itself an expression in words, and you have a workable Self-Negating Expression, ready for the ‘Backward Step’.
The most effective lingual Self-Eating Expressions typically include words like: I, Me, All, None, Everything, Nothing, Always, Never. [Nice, slippery, unstable wordsl you wonder why?] The Self-Negating Expression: ‘All statements are false’-itself a statement, is more usable than the expression: ‘This statement is false’.
Finally, the Popular Variants which tend to be rhetorical devices such as autological ‘Oxymorons’ or literary embellishments [‘Expressive Silence’] or verbal dig [‘Microsoft Works’].
The best of the world’s Mystic Literature is made up of Self-Negating Expressions. The Logical-Form can show-up in many guises, but not all are trekking-aids. So stay awake.
I once sat in on a Sangha meeting where the learned monk was whipping up a lather: ‘Not-Two; Not-Three; Not-Four’, he pounded.
This is not what ‘Not-Two’ means. It is not a swipe at all notions of plurality. Once you miss the significance of ‘Two’, the fundamental building-block, the DNA of all Man-Made Models, you can go all the way to quadrillion. And it wouldn’t make any difference.
‘Not-Two’ is a statement of Truth, not an appellation, not a name for an ‘Object’ [concept, process, state, sentiment, anything you can objectify]. And the confounding of ‘Not-Two’ as a conventional reference, a name, is pervasive in the historical literature.
‘Not-Two’ actively locks in the Subject in a verbal hog-tie. You may not not say a word [or write a Post] about it. Except to call it ‘Not-Two’.
‘Not-Two’: Àdvaitham, a term that long predates Shūnyam. Yājñavalkya defined it as simply: ‘Neither inside, nor outside’.
It has lots of layers to it and you won’t really notice them until you slip on one. But the three most relevant can be readily listed.
The first is the assumption of the ‘Independent and Separate ‘Self’. The ‘Two’ of the ‘Subject-Object Divide’. [‘Self and World’; ‘God and Man’, and so on.]
Once the First Cleaving is effected, it immediately and in parallel births the foundational twins: ‘Is and Is-Not’, that hold up all constructed Modeled Views.
Secondly, the open-ended: ‘Not’.
Thirdly, our reflexive tendency to abstract in Sign and Symbol [‘Doubles that Refer’] and hence make our World amenable to Logic and Language.
In particular, expressions formulated as ‘Sign’, and further extended in Logic, Language and ‘Thought’. And then cheerfully contracted or expanded until we get seriously lost.
The word: ‘Two’ [Dvaitham: ‘Two-ness’] has somehow managed to hold on to its clothes, keep its identity over the many centuries and continents it has crossed. I know of no other word quite like it:
Dvi [Sanskrit]; Duo [Latin]; Dio [Greek]; Do [Persian]; Tvau [Norse]; Tvee [Dutch]; and you can guess ‘Zvei’ and, ‘Deux’. ‘Double’, a word cognate with Doubt, Duplicity and the Devil. The Duo in front of the Deity.
[This notion of conflict inherent in Twoness has a very long history, the chariot metaphor of the Bhagavad Gita, the strikingly similar analogy used by Socrates in Phaedrus, et al.]
The earliest expansion of ‘Not-Two’ in the literature is as: ‘One without a Second’. ‘The One’ [Sanskrit: Ekam Sat] can be found in the history of every literate tradition.
From ‘The One’ of Plotinus that was the mainstay of the hugely influential European Neo-Platonic tradition with roots in the Parmenides to that of that of the Abrahamic Faiths [which gets conceptualized and reified into a later ‘Monotheism’.]
‘Not-Two’ is a more careful construction than ‘The One’. And Shūnyam, more deliberate than ‘Not-Two’.
[Importantly, you have not restored a sundered whole to its original glory in an act of ecstatic mystical awakening. There simply was no division all along. Or more precisely, the notion of integration and division itself is recognized for what it is, a very man-made modeled idea.]
‘Not-Two’: You can carry it around in your shirt-pocket. Bounce it, baby it, bully it. It will spring back to shape.
‘In this world of suchness
there is neither self nor other-than-self.
To come directly into harmony with this reality
just say when doubt rises “not two”
The Classic verse on ‘Not-Two’ is the Hsin-Hsin Ming of Jiànzhì Sēngcàn [529-613 CE], the Third Chinese Patriarch of C’han-Zen. There are many others, beginning with the Sanskrit, but none so rightly revered.
I stumbled on a Site that happily offers it in its numerous translations: Hsin-Hsin Ming. [Thank You, Terebess.]
But watch out. Many of them interpret the verses as implying such binaries as achievement and failure, perfection and imperfection, gain and loss and so on, terms that are perfect strangers to Shūnyam.
Upaniṣad is Vedanta: ‘The end of the Vedas, of Vedic Understanding’, a word-play on the fortuitous convergence of the metaphoric and literal, as they are located at the concluding part of the Vedic contracting cone.
Abstraction and metaphysical content rise as the cone shrinks. [The oft-cited Brihadaranyaka Upaniṣad for example, is nested in the Shatapatha Brahmana of the Shukla Yajur Veda.]
None of what I am saying is new or original. It was first articulated in the Upanishads and later the Buddhist Sūtras. Although ignored, it was largely in complete form by 500 BCE.
The tradition descended from oral-teaching to written word around 1,000 BCE. There were two principal parts to the original Tradition: Brahmavidya [The Inquiry into Brahman] and Atmanjnana [The Knowledge of Self]. It was largely in the Chandogya Upaniṣad that Philosophical Inquiry begin with Inquiry on the Inquirer [Subject] becomes obligatory.
The dialogues of Uddalaka and his son Svetaketu in the Chandogya Upaniṣad, the first of the two oldest extant Upanishads, lay-out the pioneering of the ‘Inward Turn’, the first seed that finally birthed the formulation of Shūnyam.
The assumed Subject had to be first clearly identified, the Inquirer’s Platform laid bare, prior to any investigation on an Object. Honest Inquiry began inwards, backwards.
It was here and for the first time, the Inquirer as the Subject of Inquiry, the platform from which he views his world, was being recognized as pivotal in any understanding of ‘That’. Inquiry on the Inquirer [Subject] becomes an obligatory part, the opening step of Formal Inquiry.
The modern assumption that the Subject can be ignored as long as the Object was clearly in view was, after repeated and painful experimentation, found to be false.
[A laying-out of the Inquirer, making transparent his presumptions and closeted prejudices, is part of the ‘Scientific Stance’, an integral element of what today is termed ‘Scientific Method’. The roots of Formal Meditation Practice begin here. See the later Posts.]
In time there spread a wider appreciation of the issues involved. That this type of Inquiry was of a very special and perilous character, that any inquiry on the nature of the Subject, by an assumed Subject, was fraught with miscues, wrong turns and short stops.
The Inquirers of the Chandogya, didn’t go all the way. They stopped short of Shūnyam, settling instead for a ‘Subtle Inner Essence’. [‘As salt dissolved in water is no longer distinguishable as salt’ was the metaphor used.]
The rounding of the circle had to wait for the arrival of Yājñavalkya’s Rule.
A turning point in the evolution of Shūnyam occurs when Uddalaka’s distinguished disciple Yājñavalkya, in the Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad, lays out a simple algorithmic rule to get to ‘That’. As is uniformly true of all radically revealing insights it was ridiculously simple to lay-out. The formula is: ‘It is not this! It is not this!’ [Neti, Neti].
The exact word used is Ātman, a term synonymous with ‘That’ in the verses and related to the English word ‘Animate’: to come alive, [the Latin Anima Mundi]. Ātman is simply ‘That which animates Life’.
What is ‘It’? And why is the Rule repeated twice? The common interpretation is that this was a sweeping rejection of ‘World as Object’ and a relapse to an ‘Inner Self’ in line with the terminus of the Chandogya Upanishad. An emphatic repetition of the Rule in a linear sealing of the formula.
The Rule is not the revelation: ‘I am not this potted plant’. The Rule is about the claimant, the speaker with the revelation: ‘I am not this potted plant’.
The ‘It’ refers to the Subject making the claim. The rule properly interpreted is a self-scuttling circular loop. ‘The Backward Step’ designed to scuttle the presumed Subject and not a forward sweep for locating a new Object [such as an imagined ‘That’].
Used as linear unfolding Yājñavalkya’s Rule has no natural convergence and will enter into an insidious spin. No amount of negating will lead to convergence unless the negating finally turns in on itself. And the reel will spin forever if you don’t at some point see that you are part of the movie.
The formula completes, the circle is rounded only when the aim, act and agent of negation are themselves consumed in full self-scuttle. It is a meta-statement; an assertion about an assertion. Yājñavalkya’s Rule, properly rounded becomes: ‘It is not this! It is not: ‘It is not this!’.
When properly rounded Yājñavalkya’s Rule becomes the first formulated Self-Negating Expression and the earliest definition for the Symbol ‘0’.
The linear unfolding yields the Concept of Nothing. The rounded unfolding terminates at ‘True Nothing’. In the subsequent centuries, the linear application of the Rule reduces the Teaching to unverifiable dogma, superstitious cant and petitionary prayer. The regression of the Tradition begins.
The radical young scholar-monks of the emerging Buddha-Dharma pick up the thread around 500 BCE. The literature of this period shows that Gautama’s formal schooling, that of a high-born Kshatriya Prince, was firmly in the classic Dharmic paradigm with a crew of noted scholars. These first Upaniṣads were standard fare for every beleaguered student in his day.
Yagnavalkya’s rounded rule becomes the celebrated directive: ‘Arouse the Mind with no Abiding Place‘. And the high-abstraction of the Self-Eating Expression is made concrete and accessible in the central Buddhist metaphor of the ‘Raft’. Both originate in the verses of the Diamond Sūtra. [See the Posts].
The Diamond Sūtra
Man’s Oldest Preserved Printed Text
Ink on Paper, Cave 17, Donhuang, China
‘Reverently made for universal free distribution by Wang Jie on behalf of his two parents on the 13th day of the 4th moon of the 9th year of Xiantong’
[May 11, 868, CE]
British Museum Library, London
When properly rounded, Yājñavalkya’s Rule would mark the origin of the Via Negativa, the first formulated Self-Negating Expression and the earliest definition for the Symbol ‘0’.
The radical young scholar-monks of the emerging Buddha-Dharma pick up the thread around 500 BCE. And their break from the earlier literature was evident in their sharp and single-minded focus on investigating ‘Subject’. It gives the evolved Buddha Dharma its unique and defining orientation [Anatman; a term I don’t use given its numerous and conflicting historical definitions].
They set their results down in a pioneering text, the Maha Prajñā Pāramitha Sūtra, a text which in time defines the very basis of the Mahayana Tradition of Buddhism and a root source for a variety of later traditions including C’han Zen.
And what is central to it is its exhaustive use of the Self-Negating Expression. In fact the Sūtra is simply the exclusive application of the Self-Negating Expression, reflected in almost every verse, as it applied to the parameters, the contours of the emerging Buddhist World-View.
Yagnavalkya’s rounded rule becomes the celebrated directive: ‘Arouse the Mind with no Abiding Place‘. And the high-abstraction of the Self-Eating Expression is made concrete and accessible in the central Buddhist metaphor of the ‘Raft’. Both originate in the verses of the Diamond Sūtra. [See the Posts].
Prajñā is ‘Primal Sight-Insight’. Pāramitha marks the limit of achievement, the full rounding of the circle with no remainder [the ‘Reality Limit’]. Sūtra, cognate with ‘Suture’, a strung-together lock, was originally meant as a mnemonic arrangement [hence the repetitious reinforcements], the anchoring reference to an oral teaching tradition.
The recensions of the Maha Prajñā Pāramitha Sūtra expand in stages and reach as high as 100,000 Slokas [Sloka, a metrical unit of 32 syllables]. By the time the Sūtra reaches these rarefied heights of loquacious amplification, the core insights of the original text are lost or faded into footnotes.
Pious scribes and well-meaning monks had tamed Shūnyam’s fierce bellow into a feeble whimper, a reverent purr.
Soon after, the descent begins. Shūnyam gets morphed into a rarefied space of high-abstractions and elevated reifications, all proxying for a missed denouement. [The Posts list about 40 examples.]
Here for example is a translation of the opening verse from the original compilation of the Ratna Guna [Dr. Edward Conze, 1951]:
‘No Wisdom can we get hold of, no higher perfection,
no Bodhisattva, no thought of Enlightenment either,
when told of this, if not bewildered and in no way anxious,
a Bodhisattva courses in the Well-Gone’s Wisdom’.
‘Those who teach the Dharma, and those who listen to it taught;
those who have won the fruit of an Arhat, a single Buddha, a world-saviour; and the Nirvana won by the wise and learned,
mere illusions, mere dreams-so has the Tat-agatha taught.’
This mocking of notions like ‘Higher Perfection’ and Nirvana [the latter, a very meaningful term] is directed at the emerging literature of the period, flowery claims made by unfininished monks and short-stopped scholars. You will see little of this terse bluntness in the enlarged scriptures. 2, 500 years ago such language was bare-knuckle provocation.
The oral tradition and its dependence on mnemonic phrasing did not transfer well to the written word in high Sanskrit. A downward spiral progressively compacting the now unwieldy texts. The 300 Sloka version is the Vajrachedika Sūtra, [In English, the ‘Diamond’ or ‘Diamond-Cutter’ Sūtra].
‘Arouse the Mind with no abiding place‘ says its most the celebrated line. [The metaphor of the Raft, the central metaphor of Buddhism, also originates here.]
The language of the Diamond Sūtra is manifestly opaque to one unfamiliar with its intent. It is special because it is uniquely cognizant of the centrality of the Self-Loop. The Self-Eating Expression is the principal, the only theme of the Sūtra.
Here is an example parsing the second verse below: The Teaching is that there is no ‘Teaching’. When you see that you gain the Teaching. Until then, you are held back in class. The purport of the Self-Negating Expression is to scuttle all ‘Teaching’ including itself as a ‘Teaching’.
‘Enlightenment’, a newly popular expression, is the settled conviction of the absence of a Separated ‘Self’. If you think you have newly arrived at that primal truth, you are not done with the platform of a Separated ‘Self’. There is not, never was a Separated ‘Self’ to begin with; and there is no Separated ‘Self’ to newly realize its own absence.
For the below excerpts, I’ve chosen the simpler but remarkably precise A.F.Price and Wong Mou-Lam translation from the Chinese.
Subhuti, what do you think? Has the Tathagata attained the Consummation of Incomparable Enlightenment?
Subhuti answered: As I understand Buddha’s meaning there is no formulation of truth called Consummation of Incomparable Enlightenment.’
Subhuti, what do you think? Does a holy one say within himself: I have obtained Perfective Enlightenment?
Subhuti said: No, World-honored One. Wherefore? Because there is no such condition as that called “Perfective Enlightenment.
World-honored one, if a holy one of Perfective Enlightenment said to himself “such am I,” he would necessarily partake of the idea of an ego-entity, a personality, a being, or a separated individuality….
‘Subhuti, do not say that the Tathagata conceives the idea: I must set forth a Teaching. For if anyone says that the Tathagata sets forth a Teaching he really slanders Buddha and is unable to explain what I teach.’
‘Subhuti, what do you think? Has the Tathagata a teaching to enunciate?
Subhuti replied to the Buddha: World-honored One, indeed, the Tathagata has nothing to teach.’
On Achievement [‘Acquisition’]:
Then Subhuti asked Buddha: World-honored One, in the attainment of the Consummation of Incomparable Enlightenment did Buddha make no acquisition whatsoever?
Buddha replied: Just so, Subhuti. Through the Consummation of Incomparable Enlightenment I acquired not even the least thing; therefore it is called ‘Consummation of Incomparable Enlightenment.
‘Fundamental Reality is not, in fact, a distinctive idea; therefore the Tathagata teaches: “Idea of Fundamental Reality” is merely a name.’
In the later periods, it was common for senior scholars to try and insert, delete or alter key phrases in the reconstructed verses as means of elaborating and legitimizing their own views or in a misguided attempt at straightening and simplifying the Loop.
The way to spot a slide in the core content is to stay alert to sudden qualifying lines, lines conflicting with an earlier or later primary metric, or inappropriate, redundant refrains. In general, if the language slips to the linear, if it is avoiding confronting the Self-Loop, it is most likely a later addition.
So watch your step as you read these aged lines. They can be very helpful to the informed reader, fatally beguiling to the casually curious.
Sūtra is fiercely focused, if cryptic, teaching. The Upanishad is mystical poetry in which teachings can be gleamed. The Rig Veda is solemn invocation meant for performance at formal sacrifice. They each yield very differently to interpretation and translation.
The full Diamond Sūtra from the A.F.Price and Wong Mou-Lam translation from the Chinese : http://zen-ua.org/wp-content/uploads/the_diamond_sutra_english.pdf
Dr. Edward Conze’s labor draws heavily on Haribhadra’s Abhisamayalankaraloka, Nagarjuna’s Commentaries and others. His translation is from the Sanskrit : http://www.buddhistische-gesellschaft-berlin.de/downloads/diamantsutraconze.pdf
There are numerous other, but these verses are difficult to accurately translate. I suggest staying with the above.
The 25 Sloka compacting of the MahaPrajñāpāramithā is the Hridaya Sūtra [‘Heart Sūtra’]. It is to be read and interpreted only as supplement to the Vajrachedika for its very tight phrasing can seriously miscue the entrant. Given its brevity it is laid-out in its entirety at the link below.
No Sūtra in the entire canon is more direct, in-your-face, unflinching in its declaration than the Heart Sūtra. And very few Sūtras have been more insistently spun into a mystic outer-space than the Heart Sūtra.
Shūnyam is the formal Sanskrit for Śūnya in common-speak. Etymologically, Shūnyam originate in the notion of hollowness, of ‘Empty Inside’.
The term ‘Empty’ or ‘Null’ as used in English translations of Shūnyam originate directly from the vocabulary of Classical Logic as does the word ‘Form’ as used in the Heart Sutra. [Although no guru, fee-speaker or book-writer I have met is aware of this root, which might explain their wildly creative interpretations of these two terms.]
Shūnyam itself is not to be confounded with the numerous versions of Śūnya with a suffix that evolved in the regional Dharmic literatures well into the 10th Century [ŚūnyaBrahman, ŚūnyaPurusha et al]. Or the selective use of the term ‘Emptiness’ in others [Kashmiri Shaivism, the Southern Bhairava et al]
The later derivative construct of Shūnyathā, a pivotal term in the ‘Heart Sūtra’ found its inspiration in an established earlier divide: Táthātā and Tát. And as with Shūnya, there are a variety of definitions of Shūnyathā to pick from beginning with the Theravada and reaching into all variants of the Mahayana.
What’s the difference? Táthātā, typically translated into English as ‘That-ness’ [also as Suchness, Thusness] is the abstraction of Tát [‘That’]. The problem is that you cannot abstract ‘That’ which has already gone well beyond such distinctions as ‘Abstract and Concrete’. It can only be abstracted by one who doesn’t understand its intent.
If it had any other purpose it was to differentiate the philosophical substance of ‘That’ from its routine grammatical chores. This would have been entirely legitimate. But it was rarely used in this service and very soon after its construction [and predictably so], ‘Thatness’ took on a philosophical life of its own.
What happened with Tát: Táthātā is exactly what happened much later in the construction of the distinction: Shūnyam: Shūnyathā.
Again and as before, one does not abstract ‘True Nothing’. Shūnyam itself is the leap from the limit of abstraction. The attempt at abstraction is only done by one who does not comprehend its intent or meaning.
But the derivative extension of Shūnyathā continued to firmly retain the original Logical Form of its parent. In fact it’s most consistent definition in the higher texts has been ShūnyathāShūnyathā: ‘The Emptiness of Emptiness itself’, a full-blown Self-Eating Expression.
The result was consequential. Depending on the source, Shūnyathā has been interpreted both as a synonym for a conceptualized Shūnyam and otherwise as a mystic expression for some special capture of Awareness, Consciousness, or the Whole.
Without getting into the ponderous details here, the later extensions, principally the Madhyamaka, pivot off the Principle Of Co-Dependence without reaching into the Axioms of Sight and ‘Self”, in parallel to the Vedanthic stop at ‘Being: Consciousness’.
Following the release of the posted article [‘Venice, London And The Earliest Dated Dot’], a writer made the sharp observation cited below on the origin of the symbol. [I forget his name; drop me a note if you recognize this piece.]
‘The concept of zero seems intuitive, but that’s because we’re already familiar with it. There’s a big conceptual leap between saying ‘there are no apples on this tree’ to saying ‘this tree has zero apples on it.’
Both ‘No Apples’ and ‘Zero Apples’ are conceptual extracts, neither being Shūnyam [True Nothing]. But the above is a helpful distinction and it can be made more visible.
Around 600 CE, Chandrakirti, an articulate spokesman for the Mādhyamika school which claimed itself a dialectic, itself holding ‘No views of its own’, gave this illustration of one who retains a ‘View’ of Absence [i.e. an Idea, a conceptual elaboration].
‘It is as if I ask a shopkeeper:’What do you have to sell?’. And he replies: ‘I have nothing to sell’. And I say: ‘Oh, fine! That will do. Sell me this nothing then.‘
The claim: ‘We have no views!’, is problematic and ultimately undermines the Mādhyamaka school itself. Grounded exclusively in the early Buddhist Doctrines of Co-Dependency, in Shūnyathā, it is an unwound Self-Eating Expression, a stopping short of the terminus.
But that does not take away from Chandrakirti’s illustration or the writer’s observation.
The first translation of the Diamond Sūtra was into Chinese in 179 CE by Lokashema [The Tao-Hsing]. With it the Symbol went East. And took on local forms. Around 1,000 years later, the Symbol headed West and docked in Venice. And did the same.
Carried on the ledger books of Arab traders long settled in Sind, the Symbol stops for a tour of Byzantine and Islamic Astronomy before finally docking in Venice around the 11th Century as the grounding expression of the Decimal System of Number Representation [from the Sanskrit Das, for ‘Ten’].
The Clergy, users of the Abacus, were unimpressed. They saw something decidedly sinister in this immigrant ‘Infidel Symbol’ arriving from the Islamic world. The Roman script at that time didn’t have a symbol for Nothing, didn’t carry a symbol for the absence of that symbolized.
The opening chapter of this expatriate life was penned by Leonardo Fibonacci [1170-1240; ‘The Greatest Western Mathematician of the Middle Period’] who wrote his celebrated Liber Abaci on the Modus Indorum in 1202 CE. [Fibonacci’s statue still stands in the Piazza dei Miracoli in Pisa, an hour’s drive from where I spend many an unhurried Autumn.]
If the early philosophical links with the West were Greek, the first mathematical links were Italian. The defense of the Concept of Zero as used in contemporary academia originates [among others] with the postulates of Guiseppe Peano [1858-1932].
Its reach is long. Russell and Whitehead’s encyclopedic Principia Mathematica began as an attempt to extend Guiseppe Peano. And was the bait for Kurt Godel’s rightly celebrated Theorem [‘The…most significant mathematical truth of the century’ cooed Harvard in 1952]. Modern Information Theory and what we call ‘Software’ took shape in this ferment [see the posts].
The Arabic: Sifr [Old-French Cifre; English ‘Cypher’] becomes the Medieval Latin: Zephirum, in time to Zerum and the English ‘Zero’. The symbol’s new life begins here. The economy was booming. Zero-Balance Bookkeeping had just been discovered. And this new symbol just fit the bill of the emerging mercantile classes.
That’s how the Symbol ‘О’ came West. It was not the fierce love for some metaphysical truth from the mysterious East. It helped make money; or rather, keep track of it. A refreshingly sensible reason.
[The early Indian archaeological and manuscript finds were mostly along trade routes used by the vibrant Gujarathi and other mercantile communities. The symbol has historically shown a strong and very unspiritual fondness for Money over Mathematics.]
The Press Release from the venerable Bodleian Library at Oxford along with informed news articles [The Guardian and such] came just about the time I had decided to publish this Site. A coincidence demanding acknowledgment. Below are some excerpts.
Carbon dating reveals earliest origins of zero symbol
Reading from right to left the small dot zero is the seventh character at the bottom right of the manuscript.
Carbon dating shows an ancient Indian manuscript has the earliest recorded origin of the zero symbol. The Bakhshali manuscript is now believed to date from the 3rd or 4th Century, making it hundreds of years older than previously thought…
The finding is of “vital importance” to the history of mathematics, Richard Ovenden from Bodleian Libraries said… It was also only in India where the zero developed into a number in its own right.
Bodleian Libraries said scholars had previously struggled to date it because it is made of 70 leaves of birch bark and composed of material from three different periods.
The creation of zero was one of the “greatest breakthroughs” in mathematics, Prof Marcus Du Sautoy of the University of Oxford said.
‘Today we take it for granted that the concept of zero is used across the globe and our whole digital world is based on nothing or something. But there was a moment when there wasn’t this number.’
Translations of the text, which is written in a form of Sanskrit, suggest it was a form of training manual for merchants trading across the Silk Road…
In the fragile document, zero does not yet feature as a number in its own right, but as a placeholder in a number system, just as the “0” in “101” indicates no tens.
It also sowed the seed for zero as a number, which is first described in a text called Brahmasphutasiddhanta, written by the Indian astronomer and mathematician Brahmagupta in 628 AD.
‘This becomes the birth of the concept of zero in it’s own right and this is a total revolution that happens out of India,’ said Du Sautoy.
The development of zero as a mathematical concept may have been inspired by the region’s long philosophical tradition of contemplating the void and may explain why the concept took so long to catch on in Europe, which lacked the same cultural reference points.
The development of zero in mathematics underpins an incredible range of further work, including the notion of infinity…and some of the deepest questions in cosmology of how the Universe arose – and how it might disappear from existence.
London, Glorious London. The weather is damp as ever, but the food has markedly improved. And I still get lost in its streets and parks and pubs and museums, happily so.
The original print of the Diamond Sūtra is at the British Museum in London. The original document [The Bakhshali Manuscript above] for the earliest Symbol ‘0’ is an hour away at the Bodleian in Oxford.
It’s time somebody took the bus across and connected Text and Symbol.
The earliest Mahāvākyam, summary capture of primal Dharmic Truth, is from the Chandogya Upaniṣad (3.14.1.):
Sarvam Khalvidam Brahma: ‘All [this] is Brahman‘.
Brahman is from the root ‘Brh‘, ‘To Uphold, Support’. Brahman is ‘That which upholds’. It was originally a Mantric expression for Yagnic formalities interpreted synonymously with ‘That’.
What is Brahman? I don’t know. In fact I can never know what Brahman is. And why not? Because I am part of this ‘All’, whatever this ‘All’ is. Else it wouldn’t be the ‘All’.
So how do I go about locating Brahman? There is a problem. A big problem. And what is the problem?
I can’t locate ‘Everything’ while sitting on my rocker because ‘Everything’ includes me sitting on my rocker. And it includes me thinking about locating ‘Everything’ while sitting on my rocker. And…ad infinitum.
I can’t in other words, apply my well-worn contact-lenses that nicely repackages the world along the ‘Subject-Object Divide’, something I need to do in order to say anything about anything. With ‘Everything’ that option is nulled.
Here’s a clip I wrote once about the origins of Self-Reference in Classical Logic:
‘In looking for ‘Nothing’, you must remember to exclude any sensory, cognitive or affective representation of it as Object. ‘Nothing’ is radically exclusive, hence inexpressible except as Self-Negating Expression.
In looking for ‘Everything’, you must remember to include the Looking-Subject. ‘Everything’ is radically inclusive and hence inexpressible except as Self-Negating Expression.’
The Symbol ‘0’, the original Self-Negating Expression, is a synthetic construct that was put together with the very specific objective of helping the investigator get to the bottom of all this.
In particular, this ‘I’.
The symbol ‘0’ has been around for a long time. But the symbol ‘∞’ for ‘Infinity’ however is relatively new, less than 500 years old, coincident with the birth of Science and its need for abstract measurements [the Universe is ‘Finite but Unbounded’?!].
The grizzled Dharmic monks and the geezers around the fountain-square in old Athens didn’t like the word very much, rarely used it. [It parallels their reluctance to grant the ‘Principle of Induction’ the status of ‘Law’]. And why not?
‘Infinity’ is from the Latin In-finitas, for ‘Unbounded, Unbordered’. The bells should go off right there. To give definition is to mark a boundary. And here we begin by defining something as the ‘Unbounded’ [‘The Origin of Language And The Definition of Definition’].
From the Isavasya, the briefest of the principal Upanishads: ‘When taken away from the Infinite Whole [Purnam], the Infinite Whole remains the Infinite Whole’.
Infinity minus ten trillion is still Infinity. That’s what this formally ‘Undefined Concept’ is. ‘Infinity’ is that which doesn’t budge when you take something away from it. Or add something to it.
We don’t quite know what Infinity is. But we are quite sure that ‘Infinity plus one’ is the same as it. The functional definition of this idea has remained pretty much the same since antiquity.
‘Infinite Regress’? A term coined to suggest its user needs serious psychiatric help. The resolution of the Self-Eating Expression is ‘Infinite Regress’ in its most militant form.
The idea of ‘Infinity’ has long attracted the mathematically adventurous. And the philosophically credulous.
The always effective threat of the Preacherman: ‘Thou shalt fry for all Eternity’ [Infinity on a Time-Axis].
Have you ever had the compelling desire to fly faster than Light? Yes? We’ll, you can’t do it. And why can’t you do it? The folks who worked out the Theory of Relativity found that as you approach the speed of Light, the amount of energy needed to move you [or for that matter, a single electron] ‘Tends to Infinity’.
While you snuggle into the empty space of a vacuum tube [‘Tends to Zero’], enthusiastic Scientists are vigorously seeking a ‘Theory of Everything’. Any such theory, by that very fact, invalidates itself.
The understanding of the symbols: 0 [Zero], ∞ [Infinity], 1 [One] and I [‘Self’] are mutually inseparable.
In other words, you understand all four. Or you understand none.
There is a fifth symbol: ? [‘God’]. It is a waste of time to go after it until you are in view of the other four.
Mystery and enigma unveil more readily in the fluid feminine of Myth than in the linear logic of argument and sermon.
Here is my favorite version of Genesis [Latin: literally, ‘Birth’].
A Story of Creation is told in the Vishnu-Purana where Vishnu as primordial divinity is stretched in slumber on the cosmic ocean of milk.
He rests his head on the abyssal serpent Ananta [‘Endless’] and dreams a great and grand dream of the universe.
Vishnu is dreaming a great and grand dream that He is dreaming a great and grand dream, and all men and women, all living things in Vishnu’s dream are in turn dreaming a great and grand dream of the Universe in which Vishnu is dreaming a great and grand dream.
[Lots of meticulous synchronization needed; but then that is why Vishnu is Divinity while you and I take the bus to work.]
Vishnu awakes and a lotus unfolds. Brahma, the divinity of Creation emerges and rules the created world of Vishnu for 100 cosmic years [Maha-Manvantara: 311 trillion human years, rounded-off].
At its end, Vishnu closes his eyes and returns to slumber. The lotus folds and the universe and all that is in it return to their source in the Cosmic Dreamer. In time Vishnu awakes, a lotus unfolds, a new Dream begins.
You may not interpret this myth in any conventional way. For any commentary you have on this myth is itself part of the myth.
If ‘All is Dream!’ so is my claim that: ‘All is Dream’.
You reading these lines, right here, just now, about this Dream, according to this Dream, is in the middle of this very same Cosmic Dream.
This idea of ‘The All’ is ubiquitous, found in the literature of every religion, although mostly in their Mystical Parallels. The Traditionalists liked their separations clean and visible. No messy, fuzzy stuff. But an imaginative Mystic can nevertheless spin this into mystic outer-space.
From the St. Thomas Gospel, a principal Gnostic text [CE 100]:
‘The Kingdom of God is inside of you and it is outside of you. When you come to know yourselves, then you will be known..realize that you are the sons of the living Father. But if you will not know yourselves you live in poverty..
The Kingdom of God is spread out upon the Earth and men do not see it..when you make the inside like the outside and the outside like the inside, and the above like the below, and when you make the male and the female one and the same, then you will enter [the Kingdom].’
‘You read the face of the Sky and of the Earth, but you do not recognize the one before you and you do not know how to read this moment..
I am the All. The All came forth from Me…and attained in Me.’
You will have more luck getting a roomful of Biologists agreeing on a definition for the word ‘Alive’, or Logicians for the word ‘Reason’, than you will with a roomful of Psychologists defining the word ‘Subject’.
The Bio-Engineer knows it is a silicon-chip atop the neurons and between the firing synapse. The Geneticist sneers at this simplification at what is clearly a Gene [imminent in its discovery]. [DNA, perhaps?]
We won’t even broach the Mystics for now. But a particularly famous one from India is: ‘The sense of ‘I-ness”, which means whatever you want it to mean. [Inner-Self? Spirit? Soul?]
We go low-tech. We ask the Grammarian.
‘The Subject of a sentence is the person, place, thing, or idea that is doing or being something. It is what acts or is acted upon.’
Ego is Latin for ‘I’. The Cambridge definition reads: ‘Your idea or opinion of yourself’. Note the self-loop.
Is there a Little Fellow behind your nose and between your ears, a Teddy Bear behind your heart and beneath your ribs, a Viewing Voyeur inside your eye and beneath your brow, that sees and thinks and feels and acts and makes you laugh and makes you cry?
If you find this language flip, I shall give it some gravitas.
Is there to be found, either by observation or by inference, and outside of an unexamined, inherited authority and unquestioned convention an ‘Independent and Separated Observer, ‘Self’, Subject’ in the guise of:
A Physical Body, a Cell, a DNA Code, an Awareness, a Totality, a Nullity, an Unity, an Ego, an Energy, a Life-Force, an Intelligence, an Existence, an ‘Organizing Principle’, an ‘Inner Being’, a Spirit, a ‘Soul’…
An ‘Independent and Separate Knowing Ontological Presence as Entity, Process or Abstraction’?
Go ahead and add any I may have missed. Don’t be shy.
Perhaps there is a Teddy Bear behind your heart and beneath your ribs. We are going to hunt the critter down.
‘Forgive, O Lord, my little jokes on Thee, and I’ll forgive Thy great big one on me.‘ So chided Robert Frost.
Self-Deception is complete because there is no deception at all.
That’s The Joke. The great big one. The priceless howler. An artlessly honest Joke, not a clever play of words.
But there’s a big difference between reading it and realizing it. Same as between hearing it and getting it.
There is no ‘Self’ in torment at its own absence. Nor one feverishly seeking to affirm its presence. There is no ‘Self’ writhing in Error [Avidyā], nor one awakened in ecstatic Realization [Mukthi].
There is no Independent and Separated ‘Self’. And no ‘Self’ realizing [or needs to realize] that there is no ‘Self’. And no ‘Self’ realizing [or needs to realize] that there is no ‘Self’ realizing [or needs to realize] that there is no ‘Self’. And no ‘Self’…Ad Infinitum. All the way back to Shūnyam.
Like Silence, like Poetry, like Prayer, a Joke is not to be explained. If you explain the Joke, by that very act, you destroy the Joke. And what you have explained is not the Joke. But if you understand, you laugh. And just as often, weep.
A Joke is not always in the mood to make you laugh. And Absurdity, it’s kid-sister Irony, and it’s kid-brother Paradox, are not always funny. They can just as well make you wail, bring you to your knees. Especially if you didn’t get the Joke.
‘Let me get this straight.
Your asking me if there is a ‘Me’? You want me to answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to: ‘Do I exist?’ What sort of a dumbassed question is that?
Of Course I exist. Of Course there is a ‘Me’. Jeez! Everybody knows that! Says so right here on my application. Plain as daylight. Take a look.’
1. Name [Family]
2. Name [First]
7. Religious Affiliation [If any]
8. Cell Phone Number and Email Address
9. Residential Address
10. Drivers License State-of-Issue and Number
11. Date of Birth
12. Place of Birth [ City, Country]
13. Current Nationality
14. Marital Status
15. Spouse’s Name [If any]
16. Names of Children [if any]
17. Education [High School, College]
19. Annual Income
20. Have you ever been convicted of a felony
[The Government agrees. Of Course you exist.]
‘Holmes and Watson’, Richard Gutschmidt, 1906
‘How often have I said to you [Watson], that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth’.
Arthur Conan-Doyle: ‘The Sign of Four’ 
Step into your bathroom. Turn on the lights. Wipe mirror with a damp cloth. Look. Do you see your eye? Of Course you do. But what you don’t see is the source of your vision.
In fact, what you see in the mirror cannot be the source of your vision. In fact, it can be anything but the source of your vision.
Your source of vision may never see itself.
Furthermore, and of equal importance:
Anything you see as the source of your vision, by that very fact, is confirmed as not being the source of your vision.
These are the Axioms of Sight. There are no claims of error in which I can have greater conviction.
[Note that these Axioms of Sight precede and preempt the Axioms of Formal Logic which originate in primary ontological assumptions such as an existent, independent, separated ‘Self’.]
Darśana, is from the Sanskrit root: dṛś, literally, ‘To See’. The Sanskritic analogue of the Greek Phílosophía [‘Lover of Wisdom’] is the Seer: ‘One who See’s’.
One loves Wisdom of course, but it is not settled until one ‘Sees’. Argument is docked on assumption, Faith on belief. One can question it; reroute the inference; toss-up diversionary flak. But it’s a lot harder to ‘Unsee’ what you ‘See’. All orthodox Hindu schools of Philosophy are officially Darśanas.
Shūnyam as its translated expression ‘Absolute Absence’ implies, is not a relational term. It is ‘Seen’. You don’t think about it, conceptualize or imagine it, all things done within the aegis of the Two-ness Template.
‘Seeing’ in its analytic meaning is is all about catching the beam in your own eye. I catch the beam in my eye: and catch myself catching myself; and catch myself catching myself catching myself. And so on.
I look in a mirror and see my eye. I see my eye seeing my eye. I see my eye seeing my eye seeing my eye..
I see my Mind seeing my Mind. I catch my Thought catching my Thought. I Know. I Know that I Know. I Know that I Know that I Know…
This can get a little more loopy when the high inferential abstractions of Logic and Language are at play. Try your hand at: ‘All Words are Meaningless’-itself an expression in words. Or: ‘I don’t Exist!’
Darśana is the ‘Backward Step’, an ‘Infinite Regress’ back to ‘True Nothing’
There are levels and levels of ‘Seeing’. For a pious Hindu, to see the adorned deity with a full and sincere heart is in turn to be seen by the deity in an act of divine grace [and often, such simple piety trumps all philosophy and metaphysics].
Watch out, though. Sanskrit Literature carries a long list of exclusive sightings made over the centuries by God-Men and Knaves. Each is raised up the flagpole and if anyone salutes a new school is born. All orthodox schools are officially Darśanas.
The dominant East-Asian [Sino-Korean-Japanese] flavor of C’han-Zen was given to it by its 6th Chinese patriarch, Hui-neng [638-713 CE] and his ‘Platform-Sutras‘ [T’an-cheng].
‘From the first Nothing is!’ roared Hui neng.
[The story goes that the illiterate Hui-neng awoke to this conviction upon hearing the Diamond Sūtra recited just once at a public-square.]
A recent, widely-publicized survey solemnly titled: ‘The Most Important Unresolved Question Of All Time’, came up with Martin Heidegger’s celebrated query [itself, a variation on Aristotle’s ‘ti on’]:
‘Why is there Something and not Nothing?’
Very helpful. Smart people say the darnedest things.
[Did Hui Neng mean ‘Nothing’ as in Absolute Absence? Or did he mean ‘Nothing’ as a reified ontological presence? The T’an-cheng is 1,500 years old. The answer is not clear, but his emphatic declaration is.]
If the Universe was entirely pink, I will never know it to be so. For me to see the pink, there has to be a touch of purple somewhere. A spot of not-pink so that I can see the pink.
Anything I spot is only spotted in relationship to what it is not. There has to be a minimum of two colors showing in order for me to see one color. I see a red apple only in relation to a ‘not-red apple’, only in relationship to the ‘not-red appleness’ surrounding it.
A simple version of the much-mauled Buddhist ‘Doctrine of Dependent Designation’ also called ‘The Principle of Co-Dependence’.
Cut once; get two. A pair is the first and minimal unit of division, the elemental DNA, the fundamental building block, of every Man-Made Model.
Shūnyam is not about the usual binaries of True and False or Right and Wrong. Absence and Presence. Emptiness and Fullness. Null and Whole, ‘Being’ and Consciousness. These are inexact but intuitively helpful beginning conceptual pointers that exit the scene once their work is done.
The expansions of Model are done through referential systems, mainly Language and Logic as mediated through the Meta-Trinity [see the subsequent Posts].
And once you grant the pair a self-evident truth, a string of irrefutable derivative extensions follow. And on this platform, all major Religions have erected their models of Divinity and Philosophy and Science, their altars of Truth.
This is the ancient metaphoric twosome of Purusha and Prakriti, loosely translatable as ‘Man and Nature’ or in folk-form, ‘Axle and Wheel’.
Subject and Object, Center and Circumference, True versus False, the Inner-Inviolate versus the Outer-Defiled, the Witness and the Witnessed, the Existent versus the Transient, Real versus Illusion, Achievement versus Shortfall. An immaculate, permanent, pure Heaven in contrast to a violated, transient, impure World.
And the Diva of all Divides: ‘I’ and ‘Not-I’.
And one more thing. I need to be able stand apart from this red-apple, this pink and purple Universe in order to see that indeed this is a red-apple, to see that indeed the Universe is pink and purple. I need, in other words to be an ‘Independent and Separated Observer’.
When Professor Heidegger affirms a ‘Something’, he simultaneously affirms two other things. The division of ‘Something’ and ‘Not-Something’. And the affirmation of his presence as an ‘Independent and Separated Observer’.
I get back home, look out the window and there she is. My ancient jalopy posing as a car. I See. Therefore I Am.
‘Sight’ and ‘Thought’ and ‘Voice’ [Vox; ‘In the beginning was the Word‘] are for most of us our most personal possessions. But you will need to work through the whole list.
‘I Have, therefore I Am’ for the confirmed consumerist. ‘I Love, therefore I Am’ for the debutante romantic. You can play with this list for a long time. See the early Post: Cogito Ergo Sum
From the ‘I am Aware [Conscious], therefore I am’, very popular in Vedanthic circles to the Biblical: ‘I Am that I Am’ [ehyeh ’ăšer ’ehyeh; Exodus].
In philosophical circles variations proliferate [George Berkeley et al]. ‘If a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, does it make a sound?’ Modern Academic Philosophy considers this a question of exceptional nuance.
A single line divides a page in two. It just takes one cut to separate a Dot and a Dash, to create the couple ‘0,1’, which together can express all Information.
Wisdom may be inexpressible. But Information is eminently expressible. In fact, expressibility is what makes it ‘Information’.
This, they say, is the Age of Information. ‘Information’ is from the Latin: In form-atio. Knowledge which has: ‘taken form’, in other words, given name and dimension.
The Information Age was begat in the Binary System of Number Representation.
The ability of the computer’s magnetic core to organize all information in hierarchical structures of dualistic-pairs in a coding of: ‘0,1’. ‘True: False’, as the Boolean Algebra folks like to say. [Or would you prefer: ‘True: Not-True’?]
But how did you decide on the First-Divide?
If you are sure that: ‘True; False’ is itself a ‘True’ distinction you are a convert, no longer an inquirer to its truth. You stand, already divided.
So, as the Zen-Man would say, what then is your Original-Face before you were born to Male and Female?
Let’s go from ‘Sight’ to ‘Subject’.
‘Subject’ is the idea closest to me. It is me. It’s ridiculous to doubt it, of course. But just to be sure we are going to take a closer look.
With ‘Subject’, it’s not just ‘Seeing’; it’s any sensory relationship.
I can’t see the source of my seeing, I can’t hear the source of my hearing, taste the source of my tasting… In general, I can’t have any sensory relationship with my sensory source.
It’s not just sensory relationships. It’s any and all relationships.
I cannot have any kind of cognitive relationship with my cognitive source; affective relationship with my affective source.; volitional relationship with my volitional source. And so on.
I can’t have any true relationship with ‘Me’. Any relationship I have can only be with an idea of ‘Me’ in a ‘confounding of Object as Subject’. All markings of Subject are through, and only through, Object. This is the Axiom of ‘Self’.
The Object confounded as Subject could be direct or inferred, extrapolated or truncated, clear or contorted, explicit and verbalized or implicit and muted. Look in the basement. Check the attic. It’s a learned acquired skill to find the fellow.
This is the basic principle. In delicious irony, ‘I cannot say anything honest about myself’ is the only honest thing I can say about myself. [Is that a Self-Negating Expression sneaking by?]
The historical evolution is marked in three stages: The Axioms of Sight, the Axioms of Subject and finally, Shūnyam.
I cannot have any kind of relationship, sensory, cognitive, affective or volitional with ‘True Nothing’. Any relationship I have can only be with the Concept of Nothing, the idea of Absence, the ‘Confounding of Something as Nothing’ [as in -1<0<+1; see the numerous examples].
‘True Nothing’ says: ‘You cannot see me, smell me, love me or hate me, grasp me or recoil from me. You cannot think of me, appraise me, perceive me, comprehend me or remember me, give me features or properties or tendencies, foist names, attributes, aspects. qualities…
The way, only way, to get to me is by the procedure of the Self-Negating Expression. The systematic sawing-off of the tree branch you are sitting on.’
Identifying and investigating every possible confounding of ‘Object as Subject’ is both laborious and very slippery. But identifying and investigating every possible confounding of a ‘Something as Nothing’ is straightforward, unambiguous. The risk of error is hugely reduced.
It is ridiculously simple to lay-out and extraordinarily difficult to effect. All you need to do is systematically keep rejecting every ‘Something’, keep stepping back, until you get to ‘True Nothing.
How do I investigate what a ‘Thought’ is without using a thought?
How do I investigate what ‘Mind’ is without using mind?
How do ‘I’ investigate ‘Me’?
A search for Shūnyam without a Meditation Practice in place is not a good idea.
Dhyāna, or Formal Meditation, an elemental, powerful and time-tested tool is the single-best practice to sight the Self-Loop, to grab the swirling cat’s tail. And it’s free. Take it.
Formal meditation as an investigative tool had its origins in the recognition of self-reference lying at the heart of almost every serious inquiry. And the ancestor of ‘The Scientific Stance’; the sustained aseptic posture of a ‘Disinterested Alertness’. The original laboratory.
The track of the Meditator is fairly well-established. After a lengthy period of investigating conceptual and concrete Objects and repeatedly catching himself chasing his tail in braided, layered self-referential loops, his focus turns inwards towards the Subject, the Investigator himself.
This is the entry into the long hall of mirrors. The very slippery search for ‘Self’ by an assumed ‘Self’. The handrail, the way to make it navigable, is to work the Axioms of ‘Self’ and Sight as made simple in the formula for Shūnyam.
Simply stop confounding ‘Something’ as ‘True Nothing’. And don’t blink, wink or look away at what you see. A ‘Backward Step’ in infinite regress that will naturally converge at Shūnyam.
The terminating act and event of Investigative Meditation Practice. Sight it and you are done.
Mystic, from Myein, ‘To close, shut [eyes and lips]’; you have to close the eye to see straight, shut the lip to speak truth.
As Formal Meditation Practice left the secluded Ashrams and entered the community it was integrated with a variety of bodily Yogic disciplines. Meditation, Pranayama [proper breathing] and Yoga go together, a balance that unites the seeming divide of body and mind, activity and mentation. Patanjali’s Yoga Sūtra has Meditation Practice as the high-point of a proper 8-part Yoga regimen, relegated as it is in contemporary times to a form of anxiety therapy.
The longevity of traditions such as Zen [the name ZaZen itself a tag for Zen’s choice of ‘Best Meditation Practice’] owe their success to their founders recognizing this truth and installing Meditation Practice at the core of their discipline. [All archetypal renderings of the Buddha are in formal Meditation Posture.]
I continue to remain incredulous that self-referential paradoxes whether in Logic or Language or Mathematics can be investigated by learned university professionals who have no basic training in Meditation Practices. Not the least. Most have never heard of it; and the few who have would wince if caught doing it. [See the later Posts on modern ‘Paradoxes’]
‘Know Thyself’: Gnothi Seauton. In the Sanskrit: Atmanam Viddhi. You can find variants of it in every literate culture. The oldest, most ubiquitous injunction in Language.
Self-Inquiry is an absurd idea. I can inquire about any and all things in this great and grand world of ours. Except inquire about me.
Self-Awareness? I can never be aware of that which is aware. I can be aware of anything but the source of my awareness.
Self-Knowledge? I can know about all things in this our magnificent cosmos. But I may never know myself.
Just like a thought chasing Thought, mind chasing Mind, consciousness chasing Consciousness, any Self I can inquire about, be aware of or know, is not me, but a model of ‘Me’. A confounding of ‘Object as Subject’.
[Gnothi Seauton. The celebrated words on the forecourt of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi. Theodosius razed it to the ground hoping to end all remnants of Paganism. It didn’t work. Oscar Wilde proposed an appealing alternative, a big hit with the New-Age community: ‘Be Thyself’.]
Perhaps one of the strongest convictions of this less-than-luminous Age is: ‘I am my Body’.
The excerpt below is from the findings of Dr. Paul Aebersold’s [Smithsonian: 1953-54] radioisotope experiments. Earlier he had helped build the first Cyclotron at Berkeley.
‘Studies at the Oak Ridge Atomic Research Center have revealed that about 98 percent of all the atoms in a human body are replaced every year.
Experts..have concluded that there is a complete, 100 percent turnover of atoms in the body at least every five years. In other words, not one single atom present in your body today was there five years ago.
You get a new suit of skin every month and a new liver every six weeks. [Stomach] lining lasts five days…bones are not the solid, stable, concrete-like things you [thought]…the bones you have today are different from the bones you had a year ago.
This revelation brought great excitement to the New-Age community which claimed it confirmed their long-held belief in out-of-body experiences. It was vigorously attacked by more sober scientists who after diligent research showed that the number was not 98% as claimed, but in fact only 91%.
Later findings on neural-cell DNA and Tooth-Enamel further brought down the number. Perhaps you are your Tooth-Enamel.
Self-Liberation is realizing that there is no ‘Self’ that needs to be liberated. ‘I’ am never Liberated; to be Liberated is to see that there is no ‘Me’ that needs to be set-free.
Absolute Freedom is absolutely absurd. For to be unfree is part of the prerogative of being free. [‘Divine Reason’; Do you smell the Self-Eating Expression hereabouts?]
I am free to be unfree. To be Liberated is to be freed of trying to be free. [As must be evident, ‘Liberation’ unlike the expression ‘Freedom’ has an intentional connotation of release.]
And Liberation cohabits with no one. You cannot seek ‘Happiness’ and ‘Liberation’ at the same time [in spite of Thomas Jefferson’s silver prose]. Take your happiness when it comes; but don’t compromise on your freedom to be unhappy.
The word Nirvāṇa long predates the Buddhist literature. And the problem of ambitious Guru’s unknown to Shūnyam, who have pinned a plethora of enticing and outright misleading attributes on Nirvāṇa is a very old one.
The answer to the question: ‘What is Nirvāṇa?’ lies in an understanding of the misunderstanding that underlies the question itself. The self-scuttling has to be done at the level of the questioner. And to properly sunder the Self-Loop is to comprehensively answer the question.
It is dangerously facile to talk about the possible absence of an ‘Independent ‘Self” to one firmly ensconced in it. It is markedly unwise to try and explain the nature of ‘World’ to one who can interpret the explanation only from the platform of a presumed observing and separated ‘Self’. [In other words, don’t write Sites like this one.]
Nirvāṇa marks the end of Saṃsāra, the latter term translatable with adequate accuracy as a ‘Disoriented Search’. Nothing more is to be said. Nirvāṇa is defined only in relationship to what it is not.
Or to put it more intuitively: ‘I can’t tell you where I am; it has no conventional dimensions, day or night, north or south. But I can tell you this. I am no longer searching, no longer in a disoriented totter’
Nirvāṇa in its proper definition has nothing at all to do with any empyrean ecstasy, cosmic peace or any of that later rubbish. And no, upon reaching it you still will not be able to part the Red Sea.
The word Nirvāṇa, literally a ‘Flaring-Out’, has its etymological roots in a fire that has ‘Come to Rest’. In its earliest Buddhist elaboration, the MadhimaNikaya says it is like asking the direction taken by a dead fire: ‘To ask: ‘In which direction has [the dead] fire gone?’, is a question that: ‘does not fit the case’.
In the common analogy, its like explaining life outside water to a fish that has known nothing else and cannot conceive it with any credence.
The fish is an easier case. With us humans, explanation is both unconvincing and deleterious. What we conventionally mean by ‘Understanding’ itself begins in the presumption of a separated ”Self’ and World’.
It’s sort of like the situation at the counter at the Rolls-Royce dealership. If you need to ask the price you probably can’t afford it.
If you need to have Nirvāṇa explained, you won’t understand it.
‘Explanation’ is from the Latin Ex-planationem: ‘to make plain, to flatten [planus].
An ‘Explanation’ flattens things out so that they fit within a Modeled-View. Just like plaining a piece of irregular wood.
In this tripped age where Reason is confounded with the Rational, the most insistent and socially-sanctified demand is for an ‘Explanation’.
Everyone wants one, feels obliged to ask for one, and deprived if denied one. [‘Why does my bottom hurt so, Mom?’ ‘Because I just spanked you, Darling!’]
‘Oh! That makes sense!’. In other words, an explanation falls in line, takes its assigned slot within the broad mix of paradigms, preferences, prejudices, conveniences and cultural cues that grant a view acceptance, and when tightly in conformance, applause.
When you say: ‘That explanation makes sense!’, it means it tucks nicely into your backpack, logically fits [i.e., ‘is consistent’] within the umbrella of Convention, views widely accepted as valid.
And the base of this umbrella is the assumption of an Independent and Separated ‘Self’.
I didn’t think up this trek to ‘True Nothing’ by myself last night. It’s been around for a very long time.
Dr. Carl Jung: ‘The goal of Eastern religious practice is the same as that of Western mysticism: the shifting of the center of gravity from the ego to the Self, from man to God. This means that the ego disappears in the Self, and man in God.’
This ‘Shifting of the center of gravity’ is the ‘Spiritual Path’ [Marga, Tao, and so on]. And this ‘Orienting to Nothing’ is the original ‘Spiritual Path’. Although it gets newly discovered each time a tradition wants to claim for itself an exclusive revelation.
‘When he is brought to nothing, the highest degree of humility, the spiritual union between his soul and God will be effected‘.
So wrote St. John of the Cross, the Spanish Mystic.
St. John of the Cross who gave us the scary poem: ‘Dark Night of the Soul’ [La noche oscura del alma] and his close collaborator Teresa of Ávila, have influenced every famous modern Western Mystic [Merton, Dali, et al].
The roots of St. John’s Mysticism, as that of Teresa, go back to medieval Neo-Platonism, the ‘One’ of Plotinus [Enneads], itself linking to Greek and Sanskrit text.
But more directly for the observant Christian: ‘Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live‘ [Exodus: 33].
Sri Ramana Maharishi from the Vedanthic Tradition:
‘The Self is that where there is absolutely no “I” thought.. the place [idam] where even the slightest trace of ‘I’ does not exist is Swarupa [‘True Self’: One’s Real Nature]’.
That is called “Silence”. The Self itself is the world; the Self itself is “I”; the Self itself is God; all is Siva, the Self.’
Ramana Maharishi is by informed consent the most respected modern teacher of Vedantha. ‘Who am I?’ was his principal teaching, to be arrived at in the ‘Backward Step’.
‘By the inquiry ‘Who am I?’, the thought ‘Who am I?’ will destroy all other thoughts, and like the stick used for stirring the burning pyre, it will itself in the end get destroyed. Then, there will arise Self-realization.’
The principal formula is Yājñavalkya’s Rule. The ‘Stick..will itself in the end get destroyed’ is the rounding of the Rule. It boils down to whether the stick truly burns out or some splinter remains. Is the self-scuttle truly complete or not.
‘After negating [all]..as ‘Not-This!; Not-This!’, that Awareness which alone remains-that I am…Pure Consciousness, unrelated to the body and transcending the mind… Self is the sub-stratum of all experience..
‘My thoughts upon that Nature dwelt
till thoughts there were no more.
There is nothing else other than You.
Approaching and approaching,
I become worn down to an atom,
then worn away till I was one with Him.
Hail Shiva, dwelling in holy Perunturai!
There is nothing that You are,
Yet without You, nothing is!
Who indeed can know You?’
Tiruperunturai, Circa 8th Century
I cite this extract from Māṇikkavāchakar’s rightly celebrated poem in Classical Tamil, just to convince you that this track of being ‘Brought to Nothing’ is both universal and very old. The above preceded St. John by about 800 years. You can locate parallel verses in any serious Tradition.
[I can’t recall the very talented translator. If you recognize it, drop me a note.]
Mulay [Abu Abdullah Muhammed] al-‘Arabi al Darqawi founder, the Darqawi order of [Islamic] Sufis
‘As the Sufis affirm, there is no approach to God save through the door of the death of the soul.
Now we see-but God is wiser-that the Fakir will not kill his soul until he has been able to see its form and he will see its form only after separating himself from the world, from his companions, his friends and his habits.’
From the Hindu Yagñá to the Hebrew Altar, Sacrifice is the central religious act.
The English word ‘God’, the scholars say, derives from the German Gott, from the Proto-Indo-European Gutom, itself sourced in the Sanskrit Huta; ‘to pour’ [as in libation to the fire-altar] and its related word Hotr [the reciter of the ritual-invocation].
Both words derive from Hu: ‘Of the Sacrifice’ [from sacer; ‘to make sacred’] as used in the verses of the Rig Veda.
[Yajna today stands domesticated as the Puja and ‘Immortality’ has been toned down to requests for an employable son-in-law. But that is another story.]
It’s not a good idea to be a goat on the Islamic Eid. Nor a buffalo at a Bengali Durga Pūjā. Nor a turkey at American Thanksgiving.
But you cannot sacrifice by proxy. That is cheating. You have to make your own. And what is the sacrifice?
Self-Denial is the first order of Moral Code. All Virtue aligns with it. All Vanity scoffs at it. All religions offer their denouement at the limit of self-denial, in the perfection of self-mortification. They vary only in the details.
All the pilgrim’s roads lead to ‘True Nothing’. But Shūnyam brings with it an explicit map, a long-list of false premature stops, warnings on the most slippery sections of the trek, and so on. And the terminus is unambiguously confirmable by the arrived trekker.
All other Paths, both Mystic and Orthodox, are inherently conflicted as the literature will readily show. And the terminus, mostly short-stops as a result of not having an explicitly detailed map, vary, range all over the place.
Here is my old Post on this universal ‘Mystic’s Rule’ of ‘Dying to Myself’.
This ‘Dying To Myself’ is extremely tricky business except in the most disciplined and matured hands.
A fatal loop must trip up the pilgrim who seriously wants to end it all.
Trying to negate myself is like taking on Uncle Remus’ ‘Tar-Baby’. The harder I try to negate myself the firmer I reinforce myself as Me.
Any attempt to nullify the ‘I’ using the ‘I’, befuddles, stupefies and ultimately immobilizes the ‘I’. [A state taken by the devout as further confirmation of divine oversight.]
A displayed humility is greater hubris.
I am happy to die as long as I can be alive to watch myself doing it.
You don’t have to ‘Die to Yourself’. There simply is no ‘Independent and Separated ‘Self” there to die to.
And by the time you see that, you would have died to yourself many times over. Much more than any routine ‘Dying to Yourself’. Not to worry.
‘Civilization is self-restraint’ declared Rajagopalachari, once a distant neighbor, a man of scholarship and of God [a prolific translator of Sanskrit epics that crowded my boyhood bookshelf]. It was a favored maxim of Sigmund Freud, an acute observer of the Human Condition; and an Atheist.
You might not know that the English word ‘Virtue’ and ‘Virile’ actually have a common root [Latin: Virtut, Virilis; tell that to your Padre and watch him go pale] and in turn link to the Sanskrit Vir.
Virtue is related to Masculinity to ‘Manliness’ [before the Feminists got hold of the word]. And where you see a deficit of Manliness you invariably see a surplus of Cunning. Give me a manly culture any-day.
‘Hey! 30 years on the Mat and not even a spot of shamanic-power? A short bolt of ecstasy? A minor miracle or two? ‘Peace of Mind’?’
In this less than luminous Age, plan, purpose, penalty and prize, are self-evident implacable verities to the to the modern graduate who moves proudly to a Pavlovian shimmy. Shūnyam lies at the end of the road where every such last view, however benign, however trivial, has been gutted empty.
Alighting on Shūnyam won’t make you rich, famous or even better-looking. And there is no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. The rainbow ends where you stand right now. The Symbol’s full circle.
The trek is not for the intellectual tourist or the levitating mystic. It doesn’t come easy and it doesn’t come quick. Hold-on to your day-job if you are not sure.
[Well, a carrot perhaps. The donkey always gets a carrot after the unload. So what’s the carrot?]
Those who began the search all those many years ago were less ascetic, no less desirous, than the hagiographic literature makes out. For them the finale, the ultimate crown, was to be more than trophy-wives and a yacht docked off Cannes.
They were looking for something much bigger. The grandest prize of all. Something called: ‘Immortality’. Also called: ‘The Other Shore’.
The highest intent of Yajna, of ceremonial sacrifice, was the gaining of Immortality [A-mrityu; mrityu, as in mortalis, mort, mortal].
The pivotal verses that birth the first intuition of a formulated Shūnyam in the Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad are in fact a response by Yājñavalkya to his wife Maitreyi’s query on Death. It’s the opening throw.
In the Tradition of Shūnyam there is no consoling advise proffered that you will ‘Live Forever’ [a thoroughly terrifying idea]. It is rather the issue of your claiming to have been ‘Born’ in the first place.
The summary sound-bite of organized religions runs: ‘Immortality is Eternal Life’. From the ‘In Flesh’ extreme [‘All Day Golf’] to some abstract eternal residence as Spirit by the side of God in a perfected heaven. All religions by and large offer the same plans. You pick the company and policy you like.
At Shūnyam things get a mite confusing. It no longer is clear what ‘Death’ means if you can’t find the file documenting your ‘Birth’.
The Unborn [Ajatham]. The Unarisen [Abhutam]. You might find yourself ‘Immortal’ in spite of yourself.
[The venerable Japanese Zen-Master Hakuin, at his moment of Satori: ‘How wondrous! How wondrous! There is no Birth and Death from which one has to escape; nor is there any supreme knowledge [Bodhi] after which one has to strive…all the complications [Koans] numbering 1700 are not worth the trouble of even describing.’]
Today, the subject of ‘Immortality’ is never raised in respectable circles especially so in the West [‘Can’t we stick to football and the PTA?’]. Preparation for such a search would likely get you a doubled-prescription for Prozac, the world’s best-selling anxiety drug.
But the subject is in fact at the very heart of the Christian West.
Apostolic authority from Deacon to Pope has its legitimizing root in one event. The event of Jesus rising from the grave not just in spirit, but ‘In Flesh and Blood’, his meeting with the apostles, and his choosing of Peter as the first Pope, the rock [Petra] on which the Church was to be built. Christianity as we know it begins here.
Jesus’ ‘Resurrection in Eternal Life’ as testified to by the apostles was the Miracle that begat the formal Church. In the much cited line from Romans: ‘If you believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved‘.
The Resurrection of Jesus in ‘Flesh and Blood’ was the affirming seal that legitimized the new apostolic Church. If you question the apostles and their authority the entire spool unwinds [and Magus and Mark and Mary Magdalene did some serious unwinding ].
When you kneel at the pew, you kneel to this, the central Christian affirmation of Salvation in Christ. Rebirth [Re-natus] into Eternal Life.
‘To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep;
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to, ’tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish’d. To die, to sleep;
To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause: there’s the respect
That makes calamity of so long life;
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
The oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely,
The pangs of despised love, the law’s delay,
The insolence of office and the spurns
That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin? who would fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscover’d country from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all;
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pith and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action.–Soft you now!
The fair Ophelia! Nymph, in thy orisons
Be all my sins remember’d.’
‘There was a young man who said: ‘Though,
It seems that I know that I know,
What I would like to see,
is the ‘I’ that knows ‘Me’,
When I know that I know that I know.”
You are a restless seeker, a Philosophy-Junkie. And you want to know all about ‘Know’. You want to know what ‘Knowledge’ means.
Not to worry. There is such a subject. And it is called Epistemology. You’ve come to the right department.
Epistemology is the scholarly study of ‘Knowing’ while firmly resident in the Know. It is knowing all about ‘Knowing’ and ‘Knowledge’. [Can you smell the Self-Loop?]
Empistemology [‘Know’] and Ontology [‘Be’] are the twin foundations of Philosophy. Any grand discourse on Philosophy without a clear investigated statement about these two stances is not worth the paper it is written on.
So you ask a Professor of Epistemology for the definition of the word ‘Knowledge’.
He might give you list [a safe response] but odds are that on that list is the phrase ‘Justified True Belief’ or something very close. [The original translated phrase from the Classical Greek is ‘True Belief with an Account’].
What’s so special about ‘Justified True Belief? It is the closest thing we have to an original definition for the word ‘Knowledge’. And it first emerges in the Theaetetus, in Plato’s Dialogues. Hence it is the ‘Classic’ definition.
The Theaetetus is where it all began. It is the source, the Mother-Lode for this subject called Epistemology.
And the Theaetetus, the founding source for the classic definition of ‘Knowledge’ is not about what ‘Knowledge’ is, but rather about what it is not. And why the word ‘Knowledge’ cannot be defined [read it; or see the next Post].
The word ‘Know’ traces its roots directly back to the Latin Gnosis, which in turn traces back to the Sanskrit Gnana, the earliest direct translation of which was as the English word ‘Wisdom’.
Why are the Religious Classes of every Culture, those granted closest access to the Deity, the Brahmins and the Pastors, the Rabbis and the Imams, always from the ‘Learned Class’? This inner circle to the sanctum [did I forget the Professors?] whose proudest possession is the claim to ‘Know’?
Vedic-Texts [from Vid] are translatable as ‘Knowledge-Books’. Gnana Marga is the ‘Path of Knowledge’. All other Paths get you in the periphery, but the seal of conviction is impossible unless one goes through and past this word ‘Know’.
So what is it about this word ‘Know’?
What is so special about it? A word for which, after 5000 years of Language, intriguingly overlapping with the birth of the Kali-Yuga, we still do not have a proper definition.
Kali Yuga, from the Viṣṇu Purāṇa [beginning around 400 BCE]:
‘There will be monarchs, men of churlish disposition and violent temper…Property alone will show rank.. wealth the only devotion..passion the sole bond of sexual union.. the Earth venerated for its mineral treasures..fine clothes will be dignity..(The Sacred thread ) the Brahmin.. menace and presumption will substitute for learning..dishonesty, the universal means of subsistence..‘
Kali Yuga ends when the understanding of Veda stands fully inverted, upside down.
[This was tucked away in one of my old files. I don’t recall the lucid Translator of this verse. If you do, drop me a note.]
What is it about eating of the fruit of the famed Binary, the Two-ness Template, the ‘Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil’, of having your eyes opened, of having to die, and then ‘Living Forever?
The ‘Testimony of Truth’, a Gnostic Gospel, stands the story of Adam and Eve and Genesis [and its parallel Koranic version] on its head:
‘From every tree you may eat [but] from the tree [ of the knowledge of Good and Evil, that Gd planted in a garden eastward of Eden, after dividing the light from the darkness] which is in the midst of paradise do not eat, for on the day that you eat you will surely die‘.
But the serpent was wise… and persuaded Zoe [Life’], the daughter of Sophia [‘Wisdom’], also called Eve: ‘On the day that you eat from that tree, the eyes of your mind will be opened‘.
Eve ate and shared it with her husband. Their eyes were opened and the Jealous God said: ‘Behold, Adam has become like one of us, knowing evil and good…let us cast him out of paradise, lest he take from the tree of life and live forever…‘
[As for the limerick, I’m pretty sure I got that from one of Alan Watts’ passionate little paperbacks. In Sausalito. A long time ago.]
Socrates asks Theaetetus, the meaning of the word ‘Knowledge’. Theaetetus proceeds to list the known disciplines, Geometry and Cobblery, the Sciences, et al.
Socrates stops him short: ‘But the question Theaetetus, was not what are the objects of knowledge..or sorts of knowledge..but the thing itself, knowledge, is,..do you fancy it is a small matter to discover the nature of knowledge? Is it not..the hardest?’
After a lengthy and labored discussion of various definitions, ‘Justified True Belief’ is proposed, the one felt least presumptive of those explored.
Socrates himself does not propose an answer, staying instead with the negation. He offers Theaetetus his celebrated analogy of the barren midwife who can only help another give birth. Socrates continues:
‘Doesn’t it strike you as shameless to explain what knowing is like, when we don’t know what knowledge is?
The truth is, Theaetetus, that for some time past there has been a vicious taint in our discussion. Times out of numbers we have said ‘we know’, ‘we do not know’, ‘we have knowledge’, ‘we have no knowledge’, as if we could understand each other while we still know nothing about knowledge…
All that we have brought to birth..today about knowledge..our midwives skill pronounces to be mere wind eggs and not worth the rearing..
To tell us to get hold of something we already have in order to know something we are already thinking of suggests a state of the most absolute darkness..the most vicious of circles will be nothing compared to this injunction..
Having the good sense not to fancy you know what you do not know, for that and no more is all that my art can effect..’
‘Having the good sense not to fancy you know what you do not know’: this is the limit of honest Epistemological insight.
The Good Professors could not come to terms with Socrates’ negation, this descent into infinite regress. So they declared victory and retreated.
But they needed some legitimizing link to Plato’s Dialogues in order to attest classical origins. So they took with them this ‘Least Presumptive’ definition of Knowledge and started a new Subject called Epistemology.
The study of Knowing while firmly resident in the Know. The absurdity had been winked away. It was back to business as usual.
Why was it so important to force a definition on the word ‘Know’? What’s wrong with ‘Business as Usual’?
If you can’t claim to know what ‘Know’ means, you have a great deal of annoying explanations to give. And this can get very tiresome. As when you teach subjects claiming ‘Knowledge’.
Subjects like Philosophy and Religion; Science and History; Logic and Law. If you are not sure what ‘Know’ and ‘Not-Know’ mean, how do you plan to hold forth on: ‘True and False’? Or: Real and Unreal. Or the meaning of the words: ‘Meaning’ and ‘Word’.
Did you make sense of this morning’s Newspaper? Have you really understood a single word on this Page? Including this very sentence about understanding a single word on this Page?
‘It is known by him who knows it not..’ Say’s the Kena Upanishad. Or as Lao Tzu put it: ‘The more you know, the less you understand‘
Immanuel Kant’s work which largely defined the domain of Academic Philosophy for 200 years had much to do with ‘Knowing’.
Kant tried to identify the ‘First Principles of Knowing’ itself, reaching back to Aristotle’s Principle of [Non] Contradiction and Categories [ Cause, Necessity, Contingency, etc ]. Along with ‘Space’ and ‘Time’, the ground conditions of Sensibility, they made up the Kantian Grid.
You cannot but view the World through these fundamental constructions, said Kant. They are organic contact lenses, hard-wired processors, the immutable framework within which must arise all Knowing and Understanding.
But what about these conditions themselves? How does one see one’s own organic contact lenses? How does one ‘Know the Knowing’?
Unlike most philosophers, Kant was vividly alert to the Self-Loop although he never took his own understanding of it to its necessary, implosive limit.
From Kant’s: ‘Critique of Pure Reason’:
‘If deduction of these conceptions is necessary, it must always be Transcendent. All attempts at an empirical deduction in regard to pure and a priori conceptions are in vain, and can only be done by one who does not understand the altogether peculiar nature of these conceptions.’
If you don’t see the significance of that qualification you will elaborate learnedly on the nature of Kant’s organic lenses while wearing them securely atop your nose.
And find yourself willy-nilly in the center of the vortex that is the Self-Loop. Which is exactly where Universities are today.
As always, all ‘First Principles’ including these, mount on a prior assumption of an ‘Independent and Separated ‘Self”. That does not take away from the depth of Kant’s insight.
Let’s work through an example to understand Socrates’ scathing dismissal of the various proposed definitions for ‘Knowledge’.
We understand [and create] the new only in reference to the old, only in counterpoint to that which is not-new. Your most imaginative construction of distant galaxy and strange alien is little more than a rearrangement of decidedly familiar idea and image. [‘R2-D2’ not-withstanding, a true alien must remain alien to your known world.]
New learning begins in an extension of what is already learnt. The unfamiliar originates in the conversant and the familiar. The Unknown begins in the Known.
I teach a child the meaning of the word ‘Cat’ by pointing to a picture of a cat. I do not read her the dictionary definition of Cat: ‘A species of carnivorous quadrupeds, of genus Felis.’
I start with what I know in order to know something new. I speak American-English and I wish to learn Tibetan. I go to a teacher who speaks Tibetan and American-English. I don’t go to a teacher who speaks Tibetan and German, nor to a teacher who speaks American-English and Japanese.
The Pioneer 10 Spacecraft launched in 1972 was the first object ever built that could achieve escape-velocity to exit the Solar System.
A ‘Pioneer Plaque’ was installed on it that included examples of what the designers felt were representative of the ‘Human’ and of ‘Planet Earth’.
It had Digital-Codes, equations from Chemical interactions and Astrophysical elements. And it had an [almost naked] figure of a Man and a Woman.
A stretched hand in greetings to all out there. But it is unlikely that the designers actually thought that any of this would be understood by an alien intelligence.
For this whole notion of ‘Understanding’ and ‘Communication’ as we understand it and communicate it is a very human idea.
We have no reason to believe [perhaps they do] that aliens exist as anything we can understand or communicate with, whether these images and words have any meaning at all in this context.
Perhaps the Aliens are blips of erratic light that laugh a great deal more than we humans do [‘light’ and ‘laugh’ still being very human points of recognition].
But the biggest controversy over this plaque arose because the human figures were drawn near-naked. The blips of light might get aroused and that would not be a good thing [they were redrawn].
Only in America.
A Dictionary defines new and unfamiliar words in terms of old and familiar ones. [Literati say a Dictionary spirals down in terms of ‘simpler’ words. The simplest words in Language are ‘is’ and ‘not’ and men have been struggling to define them clearly for 2 millennia. So watch out.]
In order to use a Dictionary I must enter with a ‘Minimum-Knowledge of English’. And this ‘Minimum-Knowledge of English’ must itself be sourced outside the Dictionary.
I must already possess this ‘ Minimum-Knowledge of English’ before using a Dictionary and without it the Dictionary is of no use to me.
I search Webster’s for the meaning of the word ‘Metropolis’.
Metropolis: ‘The main city, often the capital, of a country, state or region’. But what is a City?
City: ‘A large important town’. But what is a Town?
Town: ‘A place enclosed or fenced in; a collection of houses enclosed within walls; a hamlet; a village’. But what is a Village?
Village: ‘A group of houses in the country, smaller than a town or city and larger than a hamlet’.
We have come full circle. This is all a Dictionary is meant to do. We can go no further. A Hamlet is defined in terms of ‘Village’; a Village in terms of ‘Hamlet’.
In order to use the Dictionary, I must enter with knowledge of what is a ‘Hamlet’ or a ‘Village’. If I do not, I will find myself in a permanent loop within the Dictionary with no exit.
If I am alert to that, I close the Dictionary and find a ‘Hamlet’, take a trip and visit a ‘Village’.
If I am not alert to it, I keep turning the pages and look for new definitions without ever leaving the Dictionary. And enter the boudoir of the Self-Loop.
I cannot find the meaning to the phrase ‘Minimum-Knowledge of English’, within the pages of the Dictionary to which, in order to use, I must bring this ‘Minimum-Knowledge’.
But what happens when I seek for the definition of ‘Minimum-Knowledge of English’ inside a Dictionary without being aware that I am already using this ‘Minimum-Knowledge of English’ when I seek it?
In Socratic speak: ‘To tell us to get hold of something we already have in order to know something we are already thinking of…’.
With Language. it is possible to work backwards. In other words, it is possible, with due care and diligence, to identify your beginning inventory of English, the ‘Minimum-Knowledge’ that you bring with you in order to use a Dictionary.
With ‘Knowledge’, it is impossible.
If you can understand this line you are reading you are already well into a state of advanced ‘Knowing’. Much more so when you seek for a definition of the word ‘Know’.
In Primal Forgetting, I build my entire vocabulary using words that define other words in a closed self-referential loop with no appreciation of the preemptive and prior ‘Minimum-Knowledge of English’ that I have brought with me.
Until I know what ‘Know’ means I live inside the Dictionary, defining each word using another word, earnestly expanding my vocabulary of erudite ignorance. I go from page to page chasing my tail with no hope of exit.
‘Knowing’ precedes Model, is prior to Alphabet, preemptive of Number. You cannot newly define it, for it precedes the concept of ‘Definition’.
You cannot newly seek it, for it preempts the concept of ‘Seek’. You cannot newly prove it, for it is prior to the notion of ‘Proof’.
Yet, you can never know anything about Knowing without being in contradiction to the act of Knowing itself. ‘Knowing’ and ‘Not-Knowing’ is a distinction always and only made in a state of ‘Knowing’.
If you can newly define the word ‘Know’, by that very fact, what you have defined is not the word ‘Know’.
All Religions, orthodox or scholarly [as from a University], when in their metaphysical moods, claim for themselves the: ‘Perfection of Knowledge’. Shūnyam stands alone mocking this claim, assigning to itself: ‘The Perfection of Ignorance’.
If you say: ‘I Know’, you are off; if you say: ‘I don’t Know’, you are equally off. What’s common between them is the letter ‘I’.
This is the original state of ‘Delusion’[Avidya, Agnana, not to be confounded with the Vedanthic interpretation as ‘Error’].
From the Isa Upanishad: ‘Into a blinding darkness go those who worship ignorance; into a greater darkness, those who delight in knowledge.’
From the Kena Upanishad: ‘Other is it than the Known; just as much, above the Unknown. Thus have we heard from our ancestors; so was it explained’
Walt Whitman wrote: ‘A child said, What is the grass? fetching it to me with full hands; How could I answer the child?…I do not know what it is anymore than he.’
‘A little learning is a dangerous thing; Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring’
‘Science’, from the Latin Scire, related to the words ‘Cognition’ and ‘Consciousness’, is a form of Knowledge, a type of Knowing.
Albert Einstein: ‘Science is the endeavor to bring together by means of systematic thought, the perceptible phenomena of the world, into as thoroughgoing an association as possible. To put it boldly, it is the attempt at the posterior reconstruction of Existence by the process of conceptualization…‘ [See: ‘The Concept of Concept’]
Science is the nearest thing we have to a credible Modern Religion. And Science has three parts:
First, the codified ‘Scientific Method’ itself. Repeatable, measurable tests; consistent, cumulative theory; verifiable data and documentation; informed peer review, and so on.
Secondly, its central principles, the Principle of Contradiction and the Principle of Induction [there are others but these are the big ones. We’ll get to Method and Principles in later Posts].
And finally, very importantly, the ‘Scientific-Stance’.
Since you won’t take my word for it, here are three very distinguished members of the extended Scientific Community on the core of what is meant by the ‘Scientific Stance’:
Bertrand Russell, co-author of the Principia Mathematica:
‘The kernel of the scientific outlook is the refusal to regard our own desires, tastes and interests as affording a key to the understanding of the Universe..
[It] involves a suppression of hope and fear, love and hate..the whole subjective emotional life, until we become subdued to the material at hand, able to see it frankly without misconception and without bias, without any wish except to see it as it is..‘
‘Where the world ceases to be the scene of our personal hopes and wishes, where we face it as free human beings..we enter the realm of Art and Science.
If [it is] communicated in the language of Logic we are engaged in Science.. common to both is the loving devotion to that which transcends personal concerns and volition‘.
‘I will simply express my strong belief, that that point of self-education which consists in teaching the mind to resist its desires and inclinations, until they are proved to be right, is the most important of all, not only in things of natural philosophy, but in every department of dally life.’
[Einstein famously had Faraday’s Photograph on his desk at Princeton.]
There are lots of ways we judge the truth of a situation [Pramana]. In court a judge may believe an ‘Eyewitness’ more than a ‘Hearsay’ accusation. And this grant of credibility has changed and shifted back and forth over the centuries.
Science undermined all the old criteria on which ‘Belief’ was based. A sea-change took place in the way people picked their convictions. Such factors as Age, Authority, Holy-Books, Tradition and Custom, while still significant, could now be trounced if they ran repeatedly afoul of the results of Scientific Inquiry.
Western Man, uniquely so, had stared down the authority of both Royalty and Religion. And with it birthed Scientific-Method and much of our Modern World.
You can still walk into a party on either coast of the United States and loudly declare: ‘Jesus was no son of God!’ and receive tolerant smiles. But if you declare: ‘The world is flat!’ you’ll soon find yourself alone.
At least that’s what I thought until Trump came along, denied Climate-Change and began to gut the EPA. Turkey under Erdoğan just deleted Evolution from text-books.
Shūnyam is not against Science. It is its natural consummation. As Schrodinger lamented: ‘Science must be made anew’.
But if the self-scuttling is incomplete, we create the modern ‘Objective Scientist’. Modern scientific observation methods, cut loose from the monastic disciplines that were a requirement in the first houses of Learning, ignorant of the simplest Meditative and Mindfulness Practices, severs the observer from that which is observed.
Investigating the self-referential loop is effectively barred. An elaborate and intricately layered reality is built which at its core is absurd.
Instead of standing on ‘True Nothing’ and becoming ‘Subdued to the material at hand’, the modern Scientist sits on a mountain of venerated paradigms, inherited conventions, embedded preferences and unspoken presumptions.
The perch of the Scientist, the post from which he views, is located at an arbitrary point, a point no Scientist would accept as legitimate if it were within his own domain of investigation.
You cannot: ‘Wish to be Objective’; then ‘Objective’ becomes your new subjective bias. You cannot: ‘Prefer to not-prefer’; then ‘Not-Preference’ becomes your new preference. ‘Trying to see straight’ is a tenth of an inch away from: Seeing Straight.
A man conditioned over many years to be ‘Objective’ by a studied process of limiting the personal, limiting the ‘Subjective’. Out there is the ‘Objective, Observed World’, and behind this fog of the emotional, the wishful and the personal, lies the ‘Subjective, Seeing Me’.
And he builds a self-created ‘Objective World’ that is itself deeply sourced within his own unexamined ‘Subjective Self’.
The way out is well-mapped. The Observer must be investigated first before inquiry on the Observed. The lens must turn inwards.
[None of this is unique to the profession of Science. Art Theory for instance, has long struggled with the notion of ‘Objective’ criteria, a fundamental pillar of the defense of Culture itself and the confusion is palpable in the wrenching obscurantism of today’s Art Dialogues.]
A ‘Pale Blue Dot’, they called it. Less than a Pixel; but still not Zero.
Earth, taken from the hugely successful Voyager mission , 6 billion KM away, as it turned its lens inward one last time before entering interstellar space.
‘To my mind, there is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world‘ noted Carl Sagan a principal scientist on the mission [and never known to be shy at the mike].
What exactly are you looking at when you look through a telescope? The universe does not begin in a distant and cataclysmic ‘Big Bang’. It is less dramatic an event than portrayed by the scientists.
‘Something unknown is doing we don’t know what. We have found that where Science has progressed the farthest, the Mind has but regained from Nature that which Mind put into Nature.
We have found a strange footprint on the shores of the unknown. We have devised profound theories..to account for its origins.
At last we have succeeded in reconstructing the creature that made the footprints. And Lo! It is our own.’
This idea of ‘Not’ has a very long reach, a reach not fully appreciated by most of us. Here’s just one more example which might give you reason to give it its due respect. It’s an old Post from my file-box, trimmed to a quarter of its original length.
‘Scientific-Law’ is a forgivable exaggeration by the scientific-community. They are in fact generalizations from limited observations, tentatively affirmed hypothesis leading a precarious existence.
A hypothesis is never proved. It only stands unrejected. Via Negativa-Lite.
The Mother Principle of Experimental-Science is the Principle of Induction. And along with the Contradiction Principle, it holds up much of what we know as modern Science.
The Principle says: ‘Like tomorrow’s sunrise, what is happening will continue happening until it doesn’t happen.’ The Induction Rule is formalized in the Mathematics of ‘Probability Theory’.
And the First Affirmation of Experimental Science is that a hypothesis can never be proved. It is impossible to prove that a man always speaks the truth, but easy to test if he never lies [One lie is proof].
There are other affirmations. With Induction, there is no requirement for consistency between derivations. Thermodynamics does not have to jive with Molecular Biology in its final results. Each God gets his own space. [I’ll get to this wonderfully liberal rule in later.]
And Induction’s ‘Rejection-Machine’ becomes functional, takes life, because of the word ‘Not’. And its sidekicks, ‘Always’ and ‘Never.
Things work, but not for the reasons you think they do. And they could stop working, again not for the reasons you think they might.
As with the Principle of Contradiction, the early Greeks refused to give the Induction-Rule the status of ‘Law’ [Irascible party-poopers, these early Greeks. ‘Random’ is a complicated idea. I’ll get to it in a later Post]
It was a helpful rule, an informed conjecture, but no, it was not ‘Law’. For a conjecture to become law it is required that it ‘Always Work’. The Laws of Motion cannot turn off at night, nor stop working when you are not looking.
Or do they?
You know, there’s been this flip question floating around for a few centuries as to whether Mathematics measures a Real World.
Or is it just us painting with a palette limited to the colors we can see [like the visible .30 % of the Electromagnetic Spectrum]. And then claiming we’ve caught the ghost in our picture.
Sort of like the Nobel Committee limiting the Literature Prize to a Writer writing in a language it can read [about 5 out of around 7,000].
Same thing here. Most of the testing talked about in the previous post is grounded on the perfectly symmetric Gaussian Curve [the ‘Normal Distribution’: see the Diagram].
The Curve is conceived on a binary platform and mounted on the critical assumption [among others] of ‘Independent, Separate Observations’, a fairly dodgy idea but embraced in the Scientific community as perfectly realistic and sensible.
Is this the way Nature really curves? Or is this the only way Nature knows to curve given how how we’ve rigged the rules, given how we think? Is this Grandma being nice to her adorable grandson before he throws another fit?
‘What we observe is not Nature in itself but Nature exposed to our method of questioning’ noted Heisenberg [who was very familiar with the old Gaussian Curve].
The ‘Scientific Stance’, best known in popular expression as ‘Objectivity’, was first rigorously applied by the radical Buddhist Scholar-Monks around 500 BCE in a bid to exit the self-serving misinterpretations and the mystical obscurantism prevalent in the literature of the period.
It was called: ‘Seeing things as they are’ [Sakshat, Yatha Bhutam..]. Formal Meditation Practice birthed from it, the disciplined cultivation of a tested stance to: ‘See without obstruction’.
And as long as there is a presumption of a Separated ‘Self’ there will be obstruction. The platform of the ‘Scientific Stance’ might yet put us back on the path to Shūnyam.
What is it about this word ‘Objective’? Why does everybody and his aunt want to be ‘Objective’?
It’s like if you weren’t objective, you believed in Santa Claus [whose hard to locate these days, fearing gender and race discrimination lawsuits]. Even Art Critics hint at objective criteria for high-art, known of course only to the Critic.
There is no a priori reason why ‘Objectivity’ is any better than ‘Subjectivity’. It simply reflects the muted suspicion that Truth is independent of me and my views. That Truth is quite indifferent, happily so, to the Subject and its pretenses.
So I’m watching this interview about the making of a documentary on the bomb-scarred children of Afghanistan.
‘I couldn’t take it anymore’ the lady film-maker said. ‘It was all too traumatic. So I stopped the film, brought some of the children back to the U.S. and returned to complete the documentary.’
‘Oh!’ interrupted the bright reporter ‘But didn’t that make your documentary less objective?’
‘Truth’, in delightful irony is a chameleon of a word. It derives from the Old-English Treiewo, itself from the Proto–German Treuwaz. Etymological descendant of the Sanskrit Dre and Dhr [as in Dharma], it originally meant ‘Firm, Immovable’.
Around the 14th Century it began a descent in meaning to Fidelity, to a conformance’ [to the situation] and in time to simply as ‘Faith’. Truth in its deepest meaning had something to do with an ‘Unshook Trust’.
As late as the 19th Century Academic philosophers were coming up with ‘Theories of Truth’ which by that very fact vitiates its end. The Consistency Theory of Truth; the Coherence Theory of Truth; the Correspondence Theory of Truth and so on. Plato would have gulped.
If you look up modern dictionary definitions you will find explanations in keeping with the times: ‘Actuality, Certainty, Conformance with Facts, Accord with Reality’ and so on although each of these terms [‘Fact’] would itself require a lengthy elaboration.
In Martin Heidegger’s insightful take, Truth has not to do with logical propositions but rather:
‘The essence of Truth is Freedom and the essence of Freedom …is the resolutely open bearing that does not close up on itself…
Philosophical Thinking’ is the stern and resolute openness that does not disrupt the concealing but entreats its open essence into the open regions of the understanding and thus into its own Truth.’
The Zen Master Deshan Xuanjian is remembered, among other things, for his teaching methods.
He would stride the Zendo with a big stick:
‘If you utter a word I give you thirty blows’, he would bellow, ‘and if you utter not a word, just the same, thirty blows!’
[The original Mumonkan had sixty blows, if I recall. I’ll settle for thirty.]
Absurdity: ‘From Surdus-Deaf, Insensible, Untrue, Ridiculously inconsistent with Reason, Logically Contradictory, Foolish, Irrational, Preposterous.’
All pointers that orient in the direction of Shūnyam are unabashedly, in-your-face absurd. [But all absurd pointers don’t get you to Shūnyam].
If you want to get to Shūnyam you begin by cultivating a high-tolerance for all things foolish, an appreciation for sheer nonsense, an acquired facility with the flagrantly Absurd.
‘Wake up and realize you were never asleep. If you think you have newly woken up, by that very fact, you are still asleep’ [‘The Oldest Printed Text’].
It is around 400 BCE. And the groves of Rājagṛiha are alive with the gatherings of the learned, the wise, the charlatans and the hustlers.
Far to the West, Socrates’ new ‘Theory of Forms’ has been getting a lot of attention in the Athens fountain circuit. So here he is sitting alongside the aging Parmenides.
Rightness, Beauty, Goodness. These high and noble things all have their essence in an intangible ideal ‘Form’, the theory said. Behind the veil of everyday blandness lay this epiphany waiting to be had.
[‘Form’: a core term in Classical Logic, later entering all English translations of the Hṛdaya [‘Heart’] Sūtra. The English word ‘Idea’ originates here.]
Perhaps, acknowledges Parmenides. But then what about the ugly, the depraved, the execrable, all around us?
What about, asks Parmenides, ‘The Hair..the Mud..the Dirt‘.
‘Oh, No!’ Socrates quickly replies, ‘They are just the things we see. It would be too absurd to suppose that they have a Form‘.
And why not? Why turn back at the Cliff’s Edge?
‘When I have reached that point’ replies Socrates, ‘I am driven to retreat, for fear of tumbling into a bottomless pit of nonsense’.
‘That’ replied Parmenides, ‘is because you are still young and Philosophy has not taken hold of you so firmly as I believe it will someday’.
The vicinity of Shūnyam is when: ‘Philosophy..takes hold of you‘.
[This and all other excerpts from Plato’s Dialogues are from the Hamilton and Cairns, Princeton, ’61 Edition.]
Logic, as the ancient Philosophers [before Aristotle] knew and warned, begins in Ontology. If your ontological assumptions aren’t transparent and verified, the Logic will sooner or later buckle.
Logician’s, like Prophets and Politicians, have long cherished the idea of a mystical, divine origin for their calling. But the rules of Logic are not on stone-tablets nor have they fallen from the sky. They are rooted in a set of rarely reviewed, implicit and unstated ontological assumptions.
The paradigmatic, foundational syllogism: ‘All Men are Mortal; Socrates is a Man; Socrates is Mortal’, begins with the unstated assumption that there ‘is’ an identifiable, stable entity called ‘Socrates’.
The rest of the inference is inevitable.
You can’t spot a Man holding the same pose twice in a lifetime. Take a snapshot of every moment of a Man’s life: no two will be identical.
The atoms in a Man’s body are in constant motion, continuous replenishment, day and night. His skin gets replaced about once every 30 days; his bones about every 6 months. Look in a mirror. Is this the same mug you saw last night? Of course it is: note the fine forehead, the graceful neckline.
Stability, you said? Oh, you mean something inside Socrates…
Logic fondly referred to by Logicians as the ‘Laws of Thought’ [the title to an early text], deals exclusively with abstract things.
But first it needs to lay down some ground rules. And the Classes of Logic are part of the ground rules. If you want to apply the rules of Logic, you must agree to abide by the ground rules.
Logic begins with naming three classes: the Universe Class, the Unit Class and the Null [or Empty ] Class.
This roughly corresponds to what the rest of us call: ‘Everything, One, and Nothing’, or : ‘ Infinity, One, and Zero’.
So where did these Classes come from? We’ll were not too sure. They are sort of like the ‘Conservation Principles’ of Physics that are not themselves derivations from Physics but then get to arbiter what falls under ‘Physics’.
Unlike the Universe or Unit Classes, the Null Class of Logic is a very special class. All absurd expressions, words and phrases that don’t make any sense get to see the inside of the Null Class of Logic.
The Empty [‘Null’] Class of Classical Logic is the sole depository, the designated dumping-ground for all things absurd. It is the ugly-duckling, the black-sheep, the squint-eyed baby Mama tries to hide from the neighbors.
For the Logician such absurd expressions do not apply to the ‘Real World’. The abstracted, doubled, referential world where logical operators are designed to function. There really are no such things.
If you say ‘Round Squares’, it gets put in the Null Class. If you say ‘All Words are Meaningless’, it gets put in the Null Class. And if you say, ‘I don’t exist!’ it gets put in the Null Class. And a Doctor is called to the house to check your mental stability.
The Bhagavad-Gita exhorts the man to: ‘Active-Inaction’: ‘He who sees Action in Inaction, he is a Yogin.’
In China, Lao-Tzu advised that one live a life based on Wie Wu Wei: ‘Doing Not-Doing’, the central injunction of Taoism.
[Less famously but far more recently, Jiddu Krishnamurthy advised a stance of ‘Alert Passivity’. Aldous Huxley suggested a rephrase to ‘Active Resignation’. And so on.]
Aristotle is the pioneering formulator of precise, cogent, hugely influential models of reality [they lasted well past Copernicus].
But oddly enough, Aristotle installed a very strange fellow, an indecipherable creature in-fact, in the sanctum-sanctorum of his scrupulous, logically precise modeled world.
From Aristotle’s Metaphysics:
‘There is therefore also an Unmoved-Mover, being eternal, primary and in act..the first mover is a necessary Being..and is thus a first principle, for there is always a mover of things moved, and the first mover is itself unmoved.’
The ‘Unmoved-Mover‘ of Aristotelian Model is a resident in the Null Class of Classical Logic.
The irony is rich and to be savored slowly. For the great philosopher is the founding father of Classical Logic as we know it. He would have chuckled.
‘No, no, you are not thinking, you are just being logical‘ famously quipped Neils Bohr, a founder of Modern Physics, ‘How wonderful that we have [finally] met with a paradox. Now we have some [real] hope of making progress.’
This must be one of the oldest Posts in my dog-eared file box. I need to update it with some of the new non-linear loopy logic that’s making the rounds. I’ll get around to it at some point,
The translators of the Hridaya [‘Heart’] Sūtra had struck gold with the pick of the English word to translate Shūnyam by reaching into the vocabulary of Classical Logic. But they were flailing around, understandably, for an equivalent choice for the term NamaRupa. In fact by this time its interpretation in the Sanskrit itself had become entirely flaccid.
Then the Translators noticed the English word ‘Form’ which happened to be part of the extended vocabulary of Classical Logic. It had a nice ring to it and the meaning appeared very close to the word Namarupa. And so they went with ‘Form’, a palliative compromise. [The word first appears in Plato’s ‘Theory of Forms’ which is probably where it was noticed.]
But Namarupa is not exactly ‘Form’. And the two words are not perfect translation matches. And to see where and how they are different can make all the difference.
For Namarupa has a seriously slippery feature to it: Self-Reference.
‘Form’ as commonly used in Classical Logic is: ‘Something that is marked, has taken shape’. A line, a curve, a color, a smell, a melody, a scratch. Logic comes alive, is operative, only in the abstract, only in the world of Form.
But NamaRupa does not exactly overlap with the ‘Form’ as defined by the Logician. NamaRupa like Form, is ‘Something that is marked, has taken shape’. But NamaRupa, unlike the Logician’s Form, an ‘Objective’ presence, includes within its domain all ‘Subjective’ presence’ as well.
Feeling is NamaRupa, a mental-image is NamaRupa, internal-dialogue is NamaRupa. All that you see with your eyes closed or hear with your ears plugged are part of NamaRupa . If you can name it, mark it, express it, put a metaphorical finger on it, it is part of Nama Rupa.
All references to NamaRupa are already contained in NamaRupa as are all thoughts you have in response to it. If you slip on its self-referential feature you will confound NamaRupa with Awareness, Consciousness, Presence, World and other such heavy concepts, all of which are equally misleading.
[Next time a book-read teacher goes on about how ‘Form is Emptiness and Emptiness, Form’, do the class a favor and stop him in his tracks.]
How lightly can you touch on something without violating it by your touch? Why does the modern Logician not include the ‘Subjective’ presence so integral to NamaRupa within his own definition of ‘Form’? [ The Logician’s ‘Form’ as used here is not to be conflated with ‘Logical Form’, a different and very useful concept.]
He doesn’t, because the rules of Logic say that what happens in his Mental-Space belongs to him. In fact it is him. The Logician recognizes himself, has modeled himself from just that very mix of elements that stand in counter-point to the abstraction he has defined as ‘Form’.
Mental-Space is not in his field-of-vision because it is one with his field-of-vision. It is what makes him who he is. Its elements are part of his organic contact lenses and without them he will not be able to see as he see’s.
To expand on Descartes: I am Thinking, therefore I am; I am what I am now Thinking.
The material can be expanded substantially if one were to go into the later evolution of Platonic Form and the Academic Philosopher’s love of ‘Universals’. But I think I’ve expressed what is relevant in the evolution of Shūnyathā.
Meenakshi Temple, Madurai, South India: an entrance corridor
In the vibrant salons of Voltaire’s Paris they phrased it right: ‘The First Divine was the First Rogue who met the First Fool’.
‘The Veda is tainted by the three faults of Untruth, Self-Contradiction and Tautology..[it is] the incoherent rhapsody of knaves..‘ So began the Carvaka Philosopher [around 100 BCE].
Building steam the Carvaka texts continue:
‘Only the perceived exists..there is no world other than this..no heaven and no hell..happiness and misery arise in the laws of Nature; who paints the peacocks? [Why is] water cold, fire hot?..from its own nature was it born.. Charity is ordinanced by the indigent, Chastity by the impotent..‘
The Carvaka Philosophers were of course right. The Vedas [from Vidya: knowledge; learnedness; skill], are nothing if not in-your-face Contradictions and subversive Tautologies.
Sanskrit sacred text expands from a center of ferociously absurd verse in concentric circles of increasing sensibility.
‘It moves; it moves not. It is far; and it is near. It is inside [all]; and it is outside [all]’ pronounces the Isha Upanishad.
Esoteric religious texts typically began as written down versions of privileged oral teaching. Upanishad is Rahasya: ‘Secret Transmission’. The core is unsaid and ambiguous; the interpreted periphery, explicit and sensible.
The core texts are Sruti, unfiltered; at the periphery are the Smritis, Slokas and Sastras, the qualifiers and footnotes, the rules and rituals of orthopraxy.
At the peak of Vedic intent, Brahman is Nirguna Brahman (without attributes). As Sahguna Brahman, (with attributes) all names are in absurd phrase: Being-Becoming; Sonant-Silent; Eternal-Temporal; Explicit-Implicit.
Lower still and in increasing familiarity are the Myths, the Epics, the Folk-Tales, the Proverbs, the learned Bon-Mots.
You can drop the bar as low as you like. It is up to you.
This Maṇḍala of cryptic center simplifying in stages to a comprehensible and conventional perimeter is repeated in the architecture of the classic South Indian Temple.
The Garbha Griha [‘Womb-Abode’] resides at the center of the complex, recessed within corridors of diminishing light and crouching access. The deity is minimalist in extreme, a stone-erect.
As the devotee moves outward from ‘Womb’, the pillars and ceilings and walls of the temple becomes discernible, domestic. Myths, Gods, Goddesses and semi-divine figures.
At the outer walls of the temple, all cover is dropped. Life depicted in full bounce. Men and women, child and animal, angle and color, festival and ritual; life as Panorama.
The temple parallel, the three-dimensional analogue of sacred text.
The Biblical ‘Parable’ originally meant an ‘absurd, enigmatic expression’. Asked why he spoke in parables, Jesus quotes Isaiah:
‘By hearing ye shall not hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall not see, and shall not perceive: for this people’s heart is waxed gross…’
The Eastern Church insightfully saw greater danger in reassuring sensibility than in the absurd and in the cryptic. ‘Scripture shorn of antinomy’, it voiced, ‘is Scripture suspect’.
Contrary to popular belief, the Western Church held no different. The difference is more in the speed of memory-loss.
‘Miracle’ [from the Latin, Mira for ‘Wonder’], is the manifestly inexplicable event. A defiant event in violation of accepted, credible laws. There is no religion still around that does not have the miracle and the magical act as the main feature of attraction.
Nothing will make the crowd fall to its knees as would the display of a minor miracle. Reason has no capability to convince. Every other inducement does better. But none as potent as magic and miracle.
Most of us see magic in the distant vision but miss the miracle in our next breath.
Walt Whitman wrote:
‘Why, who makes much of a miracle?
As to me I know of nothing else but miracles,
To me every hour of the light and dark is a miracle,
Every cubic inch of space is a miracle,
Every square yard of the surface of the earth is spread with the same,
Every foot of the interior swarms with the same.
To me the sea is a continual miracle,
The fishes that swim—the rocks—the motion of the waves—the
ships with men in them,
What stranger miracles are there?’
Contradiction, from the Latin: Contra Dicere, ‘to speak at-odds, against’. Any attempt at the resolution of the Self-Eating Expression requires extended unflinching intimacy with this unpleasant beast. So let’s get started.
Anytime we use the word ‘Consistency’ [‘Of Course! That makes sense!’] in Mathematics or Language, we are drawing on the Non-Contradiction Principle. Much of what is called ‘Proof’, a word that makes every kid wet his pants in high-school, is a demonstration of the Internal Consistency of a set of Logico-Mathematical assertions.
‘Once one accepts a Logical Contradiction’ observes an eminent and anxious contemporary Physicist ‘one can prove anything one likes. It is the end of Rational-Thought’.
‘The Higgs Boson [a.k.a: ‘God-Particle’] is certain to be found’ assures a high scientist working with CERN in Geneva. ‘It is required to be there by the laws of [theoretical] consistency‘.
The Principle of Non-Contradiction is burdened with not only keeping all Rational-Thought alive but also providing a proper ‘God-Particle’ for the denied scientists. [God-Sighting was indeed confirmed this year, but annoyingly a smaller new techno-particle also showed-up. But the Scientists are on the chase.]
[I’ve always chuckled at this line from the writer F. Scott Fitzgerald: ‘The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function…’.]
The Principal Principle of Logico-Mathematical model [in fact of all ‘Analytical Cognition’, to use Immanuel Kant’s expansive phrase] is the Principle of Contradiction.
In delightful irony, it is also called the Principle of Non-Contradiction.
When your high-school teacher asked you to ‘prove’ something in math-class, he was asking you to show that it all held together nicely. In other words, that you were not contradicting yourself somewhere in the fine-print.
Aristotle’s defense of this pivotal principle is the first formalized application of the Self-Eating Expression in the Western Tradition that I am aware of.
He called it: ‘The First Principle of Rational Knowledge’. It is ‘Aristotle’s Principle’; for it was he who had the courage of conviction to place it on center stage.
This dominant Principle [Virodha in Sanskrit, literally: ‘conflicted, to be countered’] had been known for centuries before Aristotle. But no philosopher before him made as brilliant, forceful and convincing a case for what, in his words: ‘one must have to understand anything whatsoever.’
Two thousand later, Immanuel Kant, who defined the domain of Academic Philosophy for two hundred years, in his Critique of Pure Reason called it the: ‘Principle Sine Qua Non-the universal and fully sufficient principle of all analytic cognition’.
Aristotle’s Principle is the pillar behind the most celebrated claims of High Intellection, of Rationality itself. If you question it you question everything.
Aristotle’s founding of Classical Logic began as an extension of its truth. And Philosophy and Logic, Language and Mathematics, indeed every subject claiming to be rational has had to make peace with its diktats.
In short, this is a pretty important principle.
Aristotle’s definition of the Principle, which he extolled as: ‘The Surest Principle..Itself not an assumption…but a beginning for all other axioms‘, the one Principle: ‘Which one must have to understand anything whatsoever’, is as follows:
‘It is impossible for the same thing at the same time to belong and not to belong to the same thing and in the same respect.’
Here is Immanuel Kant [whose own work was an extension of Aristotle’s models] 2000 years later:
‘The proposition: ‘No subject can have a predicate that contradicts it’ is called the Principle of Contradiction..and we must hold [this Principle] to be the universal and fully sufficient principle of all analytic cognition..and the fact that no cognition can be at variance with this Principle without nullifying itself, constitutes the Principle Sine Qua Non..‘
Here is Aristotle in Metaphysics:
‘The possibility of a middle between contraries is excluded: for it is necessary to assert or deny one thing or another. This is clear from the definition of Truth and Falsity: either what is, is affirmed or denied, or else what is not, is affirmed or denied, there can be no middle ground..
Similarly, every thought and concept is expressed as an affirmation or a negation, this is clear from the definition of Truth and Falsity.
Hence also, the frequent saying befalls all such arguments, that they destroy themselves. For he who says that all things are true presents even the statement contrary to his own as true, and therefore his own as not true: whereas he who says that all things are false presents also himself as false.’
Aristotle called such an appeal a ‘Self-Destroying Argument’. A perfect and precise phrase, vintage Aristotle.
Does it ring a loud bell?
The Contradiction Principle demands that all derivations meet its condition of internal-consistency. But what then is the defending criterion for this celebrated Principle itself?
In Aristotle’s words: ‘The beginning of demonstration cannot [itself] be demonstrated..those who insist on being refuted by argument seek the impossible; for in insisting that they be proven to be self-contradictory, they already contradict themselves..’.
The Principle of Contradiction, the criterion for Logico-Mathematical ‘Proof’, itself has no proof, cannot be proven in a rational framework.
If ‘All things are False’-so is the claim: ‘All things are False!’ If ‘Nothing is True’- so is the declaration: ‘Nothing is True!
But hold on just a second. To say; ‘Nothing is True!’ is not a lie. In fact, I have no idea what it is. For I am firmly in the grip of the Self-Loop.
The principal defense of the Principal Principle, Aristotle’s ‘Self-Destroying Argument’ is contained in a Self-Eating Expression.
Why should you not violate the Principle of Contradiction?
You should not violate the Principle of Contradiction because if you violate the Principle of Contradiction you thereby contradict yourself and thereby violate the Principle of Contradiction.
Check out the Post on ‘The Mathematical Truth of the Century’ and see if you can spot any similarities 2,000 years apart.
So what are we saying? The Principle of Contradiction is wrong? No. As with the notion of’Self’, of ‘Substance’, we need to extract ourselves in imagining some unnecessary and unverifiable universe of stable ‘Inner Entities’ that are at war when in violation of the Principle.
Red is not blue; nor is an orange an apple. They are not so, not because the apple has an ‘Inner Apple Center’ different from an ‘Inner Orange Center’. They are not so because we have defined them that way in a complex interwoven structure of Sign and Symbol, Alphabet and Numeral, Logic and Language. And that is all that we need to accept.
[You know, Logician’s are at heart Mystics, vociferously in denial of the deep mystical roots at the base of their Profession.]
In old Athens, they were giving Aristotle, the founder of Classical Logic, a hard time.
The philosophers in the generation before Aristotle, more alert to the Self-Loop, refused to give the Principle of Contradiction the status of ‘Law’.
And this, Aristotle thought was just not fair. [Modern Scientists and Philosophers are made of tougher stuff. They don’t wait for approval from any Village-Elder.]
In Metaphysics, Aristotle complains:
‘Those who are genuinely perplexed believe…[the] co-presence of contraries is an elementary fact..
So Anaxagoras declares everything to be mingled in everything else.. Democritus too says that the Void and the Plenum are alike present in any part..
Empedocles say’s: ‘As men themselves changed, so came a corresponding change of mind.’ Homer too is said apparently to have held the same opinion.
Parmenides declares himself..in the same way: ‘What fills [Man’s] body fills his thought.’
Xenophanes [who was the teacher of Parmenides] seems not to have understood..material or formal explanation, but gazing at the whole sky says: ‘Unity is God!’.
And from this conviction there blossomed the most extreme of their doctrines, the philosophy of Heraclitus as held by Cratylus, who finally thought one ought not to speak at all, but simply pointed his finger and censured Heraclitus for saying that it is impossible to step into the same river twice–for he himself believed that one could not do so even once.’
Opening the First Synod of Nicaea in 325 A.D. Athanasius declared: ‘God became man in order that man becomes God’.
Jesus is not just a historical [Yeshua, Lesus, Joshua] or mythical [Mashiah, Kristos, Christ] figure. Jesus is not even a simple idea. Jesus in fact, is a defiant contradiction. For ‘Jesus’, it said: ‘is both God and Man.’
The first Synod of Nicaea was the first Ecumenical meeting of the Catholic Church, under Constantine, whose own conversion elevated an heretofore obscure persecuted cult to an empire-spanning faith propagated under a Pax Romana.
This seminal idea was later elaborated in mythic language by the Kabbalah of the Sephardic Jews, and is at the core of denouement in every mystical parallel of Abrahamic Religions.
Athanasius’ proclamation was a provocatively incorrect stance for a man of the Church. He was not granted an easy passage. A charged debate ensued and it was finally [but not unanimously] agreed that a new major doctrine that ironed out various conflicting minor anomalies was indeed needed.
And the new doctrine said:‘Christ was of one substance with the Father’.
To be a True Christian is to be able to ride that contradiction and allow it to take you where it will. Else you can jump and grab one end of the binary tail and be done with it. And who would choose ‘Man’ over ‘God’?
The Creed of Nicaea was the first uniform statement of doctrine for the Catholic Church. Much of the mountainous pile of later theological writing focused on making sensible this and other irritating antinomies that kept erupting, sneaking their way past the stern guards stationed at the door of orderly Church interpretation.
[Naturally, this leads to even greater absurdity: ‘How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?’]
The Posts on Aristotle’s defense of the Principle of Contradiction and the play of the Self-Negating Expression go back over 2,000 years. I’d like to set forth a more recent example, one less than a century old, just to convince you that things haven’t changed much.
‘Logic is to Philosophy what Mathematics is to Nature’. So goes the line. For me the distinction has always been fuzzy. But I will use both headings.
The problem-zone is the point of intersection between Mathematics and Philosophy. Or more precisely, the Mathematician’s application of philosophical notions, the noble intent to come to terms with issues better dealt with if the researcher was familiar with the evolution of philosophical presumptions over the millennia.
First, the Mathematician’s interpretation of the idea of ‘Unity’ and secondly, his application of the idea of ‘Truth’.
[There are others: the notion of Finiteness, for example, a central theme of the Hilbert Program; the notion of the Observer: the emergence of Metamathematics and its arrangement of hierarchical statements; the blithe takes on the notion of ‘Isness’ or Ontological Presence: ‘There is an X such that…’]
The notion of ‘Unity’ [‘One-ness’] in Mathematics is the struggle to define Sets and Classes and Groupings [Cantor, Von Neumann et al; see the next section of Posts].
‘Truth’, a word thoughtful philosophers across cultures have struggled with for millennia is largely captured in Logic in the concept of ‘Proof.
There are various levels of ‘Proof’ and numerous interpretations of what exactly the word means [it was this very need that ultimately lead to Kurt Godel’s work in the next section]. But what we do know is that they all take life upon a central principle, the Principle of Contradiction.
Logician’s and Mathematician’s are not expected to know their philosophical ground at the same level of familiarity as the trained philosopher. But at some point, in inquiry directed to the roots of Logic and Mathematics, the questions should converge or at least overlap. And if they don’t, some side has taken a wrong turn.
Georg Cantor accused Immanuel Kant of being a ‘Mathematical Ignoramus’. This is beyond funny. It was Kant who in his Critique of Pure Reason repeatedly warns the reader that he may not use his ‘First Principle of Knowing’ on analyzing ‘The First Principles of Knowing’ [see the Posts for the story]. The mathematicians did exactly the mathematical analogue of that in laying out their Set Theory.
Or in a similar vein, the Logician’s demand for ‘Consistency’ in everything the layman says, when the very notion of ‘Consistency’ remains less than consistent.
If the early philosophical links with the West were Greek, the first mathematical links were Italian. The development of the Concept of Zero, its Western intellectual foundations, begin with Fibonacci [1170-1240; ‘The Greatest Western Mathematician of the Middle Period’] and sealed later by Guiseppe Peano [1858-1932].
The latest subscribed research into Number Theory goes back less than 150 years with the formal conceptualization of the Symbol ‘0’ by Guiseppe Peano in his five famous postulates. [The first postulate reads: ‘Zero is a natural number’].
The Mathematician’s notion of Unity or Wholeness is the idea of the Mathematical Set. [In the wonder-world of the Self-Loop, the word with the most number of posted definitions the last time I checked seems to be the word ‘Set’, as in Mathematical Set, which is another word for ‘Definition’. See the Post.]
The problem becomes intractable once the investigators take the notion of ‘Unity’ to its necessary limit. And that required immersion into Set Theory [again, Peano pioneered its early application]. And in Set Theory they hit head-on into the Self-Loop.
The Self-Eating Expression comes alive from the shadows anytime something is used on itself, anytime we are wading, knowingly or otherwise, into the swamp of the Self-Loop.
The single tripper-upper? The notion of Self-Reference [recursion, repetition, reflection and numerous variants].
Bertrand Russell and Alfred Whitehead wanted to produce a founding Bible that built up the rules of Mathematics from the ground-up. So they began with Peano’s work and titled their opus Principia Mathematica. [1910; Latin titles are always dangerous, vide Wittgenstein and his Tractatus Logico Philosophicus.]
The celebrated 3-volume opus was among other much grander ambitions, an attempt to resolve the conflicts between the observing Subject and his inclusion or exclusion in a Set.
The issue never found a resolution [Russell and Whitehead had to use a variety of sequenced exceptions to hold the logic together]. Until Kurt Godel came along.
[No point in repeating here what is well in the public domain. The story of the Godel iceberg is common knowledge among the mathematically-inclined and there is a large readable literature out there on Godel, Russell’s Paradox, Principia Mathematica and the rest. I’ll limit myself to the outlines.]
In 1952, Harvard University honored the Logician Kurt Godel with an award that read: [For] ‘The discovery of the most significant mathematical truth of the century.’
The award was for Kurt Godel’s seminal paper: ‘On formally undecidable propositions of Principia Mathematica and related systems.’
Godel proved that the consistency of any Formal System cannot be proven using the methods of that System without simultaneously violating the basis of consistency of that System itself [There were other issues such as ‘Completeness’. But this will do for now.]
Can you sniff the Self-Loop?
A Theorem which itself drew upon the work of Jules Richard and others and went forward in seminal revelations that have hugely influenced modern computer, information and cognitive theories [as with the work of Alan Turing and numerous less famous mathematicians].
In a footnote to his paper Godel notes: ‘Any Epistemological Antinomy, such as the ‘Liar’s Paradox’ could be used for a similar proof’. Godel’s resolution relies on the form of a famously curious shout by Epimenides the Cretan who declared: ‘All Cretans are liars!’
‘All Cretans are liars’ is close. It would be closer if, unless you happen to be a Cretan yourself, it read: ‘All men and women are liars’, for then it would include you, the observer, in any interpretation of this claim. A full-blooded Self-Eating Expression.
A Self-Eating Expression is meant to be unwound sequentially in the ‘Backward Step’. It is not to be stared at as a static logical complexity [which is the way it has been treated in the professional literature]. That just sinks you deeper into the swamp.
[The ‘Liar’s Paradox’ is a paradox only because we don’t know if Epimenides is a liar or not. He is neither. This might be more transparent if: ‘All Cretans are liars’ is replaced with: ‘All Words are false’ which denies you the ability to extract yourself out of the loop and pronounce on its truth or falsity.]
So what was the flower of Peano’s seed?
Following his discovery a professor of mathematics summarizing Godel’s work solemnly intoned: ‘[Godel’s Theorem] ‘requires that the ultimate foundations of Mathematics and all its derivative truths remain a mystery’. [In other words: ‘We don’t really know what we are doing, but we are doing it anyway’.]
Less kindly, it suggests that all Mathematical Modeling cannot be differentiated in any provable way from a manufactured reality in indeterminate Self-Loop.
Mathematician’s hurry to defend their work by drawing lines around terms like ‘Axiomatic’ and ‘Formal’. They are red-herrings. Godel’s Theorem is the tip of the iceberg. The issues with self-reference go deep. Any real foundation must begin by unwinding it all the way and laying it out for view in sunlight.
Are Logico-Mathematical truths intrinsic, hard-wired into Nature? Or are they a man-made convenience, a modeled-understanding of Self and World? Get to True Nothing and find out for yourself.
The repeatedly exploding absurdities, contradictions and paradoxes in Logic and Mathematics, which among all subjects are the most carefully thought out, the most precisely expressed, will not end until the central issue of self-reference in all its forms is confronted head-on.
A Turing Machine is a device that uses a set of rules to work a list of symbols on a length of tape.
And it was the progenitor of the idea that became the modern computer. Or more accurately, what we call ‘Software’.
Kurt Godel’s paper was published in 1930. Within a decade, Alan Turing applied Godel’s work to solve issues fundamental in the birthing of Modern Software [‘Undecidability’; The’Halting Problem’, 1937]. And Academic Departments went about marveling at the quirkiness of ‘Strange Loops’.
Both Kurt Godel and Alan Turing reach for variants of the Self-Eating Expression to seal their respective proofs. So why not just start with the opening Self-Eating Expression: ‘I don’t exist!’ It’s a lot more fun to work with than the cryptic symbols of these two pioneers.
The famed ‘Enigma Machine’ had a host of creative mathematicians far less known from across Europe contributing to it. But Turing’s greater fame was matched by his tragedy.
What is it with brilliant Logicians who see too far? Why are the deities of Consistency and Rule so indifferent to their first-born? Godel died from self-imposed starvation, according to the coroner; Turing, from cyanide poisoning.
This is the tip of the iceberg. If you are a math aficionado, a trove of rich pickings awaits. Perhaps the current rave, Artificial Intelligence?
Here is Ludwig Wittgenstein from his Tractatus Logico Philosophicus, a seminal text on the Philosophy of Logic:
‘The Tautology is unconditionally true; the Contradiction is in no condition true…the Truth of Tautology is certain, of Proposition possible, of Contradiction impossible.
‘Tautology and Contradiction are without sense..Tautology leaves to Reality the whole infinite logical space; Contradiction fills the whole logical space and leaves no point to Reality.
Neither one of them therefore can in any way determine Reality..(They) are the limiting case of the combination of symbols, namely their dissolution.‘
O.K. So what in heaven’s name is a ‘Tautology’? I’m glad you asked. For strictly speaking, we don’t know.
What is a Contradiction? We are not too sure either.
But here are examples of what we think they mean:
‘It is raining’ is a proposition. You can verify its truth by looking out the window. ‘It is raining or not raining’ is a Tautology: it’s truth, a Logician would say, is certain. ‘It is both raining and not raining’ is a Contradiction: it’s truth, a Logician would say, is impossible.
‘It is neither raining nor not-raining’ however is Sweet Nonsense. The Logician does not see the need to dignify it with a comment.
To search within the limits of the familiar and the sensible is to look for your lost keys under the lamp-post, ‘because that’s where the light shines’.
Tautology and Contradiction are the Logico-linguistic limits of the legitimate expression. They mark the boundary of the sensible. Go past that boundary and you are in absurdist territory.
Respectable folks largely live in the zone between Tautology and Contradiction, the mapped terrain of ‘Conventional Understanding’ [vyavharasatya].
Worthwhile Teaching however [and there is not much of it around], begins at this border and moves outward into zones of ever-increasing Absurdity.
[The metaphor of the light under the lamp-post goes back to early Sufi literature but has been appropriated as the ‘Streetlight Effect’ by modern Academia.]
Ludwig Wittgenstein taught Logic and Language at Cambridge with Bertrand Russell [Principia Mathematica] and was a reluctant founder of Analytical Philosophy.
I always liked Professor Wittgenstein. He was the established star at Cambridge, a serious philosopher who also had a fan-following. [Stranger things happen. Paris shut-down for Jean-Paul Sartre’s funeral.]
And Wittgenstein just turned and walked away from it all once he stopped believing in what he was teaching. That’s intellectual honesty.
In his celebrated phrase of informed and abject capitulation: ‘Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.’
Is the characterization: ‘It is just as it is; things are just as they are’ an empty Tautology? How about ‘True Nothing’ and ‘Not-True Nothing’?
What’s a Tautology?
This subject called Mathematics, in fact it’s larger family, the complex of Analytics that fall under the banner of Logico-Mathematical Method, is erected on multiple pillars.
If they shake an inch the entire structure will swing by a mile. So it’s a good idea to step down with a flashlight and take a look at these foundations every now and then.
The first and most important is the pillar labeled with the little word ‘ Is’ [we will get to it in the Posts, by-and-by]. The second of the pillars is the Principle of Contradiction. A third, often ignored, is the concept of the Tautology.
Here is Professor Bertrand Russell:
‘It is clear that the definition of ‘Logic’ or ‘Mathematics’ must be [newly] sought..[we must] no longer be satisfied [defining] logical propositions as those that follow from the Law of Contradiction..[but] must admit a wholly different class of propositions..[that] all have the characteristic which we
agree..to call Tautology.
For the moment, I do not know how to define ‘Tautology’..I know of none that I feel to be satisfactory, in spite of feeling thoroughly familiar with the characteristic of which a definition is wanted.
At this point, therefore, for the moment, we reach the frontier of knowledge on our backward journey into the logical foundations of Mathematics.’
Honest and finely crafted lines from the co-author of Principia Mathematica. In English: ‘The ‘[Foundational] Principles of Mathematics’.
In the early part of the last century, Cambridge Analytic Philosophers, lead by Bertrand Russell [Wittgenstein wrote his Doctoral Dissertation under him, if I recall] and bewitched by the Rational, had tried hard to anoint it as the only true God.
As a teenager growing up in Madras [now, Chennai], I spent my free afternoons at the British Council Library mainly because it was free, air-conditioned and always had pretty girls visiting from the neighboring college.
And the library carried all his books [he won a Nobel for Literature]. And I must have read everything the good professor ever wrote. I admired his courage of conviction; he claimed he studied Mathematics only because it was the nearest thing he could find to ‘Certainty’. He was a hero to my youth.
What is a Sign?
‘Sign’, from the Latin Signum, is a mark, an indication, a point, a reference.
A proper sign always does a two-step jingle. It both stands for itself and refers to something else.
What’s so special about this sign with the pointing arrow that reads: ‘New York’?
The sign ‘New York’ is both a sign that says ‘New York’ and a pointer to the State of New York. You read the sign ‘New York’ and follow it’s directions to the State of New York. [Check with a Professor of Semiotics, though.]
Language and Logic are expressed in Signs. The Alphabet and the Number System are structures of made-up of signs.
But the most important, intractable signs are those that bounce around in our head. Sign, like the Meta-Trinity: Thought, Mind and Consciousness, has this extraordinary ability to multiply and divide, while all the time remaining itself.
Sign doubles, while remaining single. Sign in other words, ‘Gives Birth to Itself’.
What is ‘New York City’?
A confounding snarl of sign, symbol, name, map, copy and terrain. ‘New York City’ is a reference, an Idea.
The above is not New York City. It is a photograph of New York City. It is not a photograph of New York City, it is an image on your computer screen. It is not an image on..
So what is ‘New York City’?
I don’t recognize Manhattan anymore, the East Village or the Upper East Side, the home of my wanton youth. SOHO used to be a truck- stop before Gucci moved in. The hole-in-the-wall bars were a place for good, cheap beer, genuinely starving artists, the occasional erudite hooker and others of ambiguous gender.
So what is ‘New York City’?
Call the Mayor’s office and take a Surveyor with you for a walk along the East River. Where does Manhattan begin? The sand along the river’s edge has long moved on, the shrubs of last year now replaced by new ones. The water in the river today has no memory of the water that flowed yesterday.
So what is ‘New York City’?
‘Everything else can satisfy only one wish’ wrote Arthur Schopenhauer, ‘[but] money alone is absolutely good…because it is the abstract satisfaction of every wish…‘
Take a look at the One-Dollar Bill. It has lots of interesting symbols. And inspiring Latin regularly misused by Presidents [Annuit Coeptis, E Pluribus Unum, Novus Ordo Seclorum]. And more.
It’s a rich, unappreciated, ignored document. I’ve yet to see anyone take a look at it twice. But they do count them very carefully.
The Dollar-Bill is in fact worthless if not for the signs printed on it. You can buy a meal, have a drink with a Dollar-Bill. But you are not supposed to eat the Dollar-Bill for lunch.
The Economist’s term ‘Money-Illusion’, is the name for the state where you confound the dollar-amount of your Income with the things you can buy with it. If you suffer from Money-Illusion, you remain unconcerned when prices double and your Income remains flat. Or you feel elated with a 10% bonus when the inflation-rate has just surged 50%.
Sign is like a Dollar-bill. A Dollar-bill is a printed piece of paper with a lot of signs on it. We can confound the paper with the things it can buy. And at the next level, the cheer it can bring. And so on.
This is Everyman’s ‘Money-Illusion’. The Economist’s can have theirs back.
The ‘Open Eye’, best known as the Freemason Symbol actually has very long roots going back into early Hindu [‘The Third Eye of Shiva’] and Buddhist iconography.
This ‘Eye of Providence’ sits atop the isosceles edges of an equidistant base [most commonly interpreted as the Christian Trinity]. And thanks to the philosophical orientation of the Founding Fathers it can be found on the Great Seal of the United States as well as the One Dollar Bill.
‘In the beginning was the Word’. The World begins in Vac [Sanskrit]; Vox [Latin; Voice].
As Ludwig Wittgenstein summarily put it: ‘Die Grenzen meiner Sprache bedeuten die Grenzen meiner Welt.‘ The limits of my Language are the limits of my World.
‘Philosophy’ he declared ‘is a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by language.’
It can take a lifetime of observation to appreciate how much of our World is based on Language. It fits us like a snug set of contact lenses. We view the World through them.
And we don’t remember that we have them on until something hits us in the eye.
The World is divided into Subject and Object, Noun and Verb, Gender and Tense. Words like ‘of’ and ‘for’, ‘to’ and ‘from’, ‘and’ and ‘or’, create a sanctioned and structured web of associations and divisions.
And we are to be forgiven if we take this synthetic structure as intrinsic to the way the World is, the way the World works.
Language maps the World in it’s own image. It draws the boundaries, shades the colors. And it is a self-sufficient mapped World that is very good at explaining itself to itself.
‘The World outside makes no sense. But come into my parlor and I will serve you a fresh helping of Words that will make everything nice and cozy’.
The language you ‘think-in’ is the unexamined repository of a millennia of influences. What ideas and things did the culture see as worth labeling? What distinctions did the culture see as worth marking?
Eskimos famously have a dozen names for Snow and the modern Investment-Banker a dozen names for Money.
Language creates the convention of legitimate distinctions that allow discourse. It draws the lines in the socio-linguistic matrix.
Reality carved in familiar ways is ceaselessly reinforced. A self-created line, repeated, entrenched, is now seen as a self-evident divide. Distinction, as Difference.
Universities will love you unconditionally if you are good at Numbers and Words. Math-Verbal skills: an ability to express in Words and figure-out in Numbers.
A primary service of a modern university is training in the ability to build advanced models. And great math-verbal skills, the ability to take-apart and put-together using signs and symbols is the most desirable raw-material for training in advanced model-building.
As the level of intricacy and sophistication of subjects increase as in Academic Philosophy or Theoretical Science [my favorite though remains ‘Post-Modernism’] their content becomes a complex mix of abstraction and reification, an intricate cross-referencing play of sign upon sign.
Signs that refer exclusively to other signs. Thoughts that refer exclusively to other thoughts. Words defined entirely using other words. Every untied knot revealing a new knot.
Sign-world. A hall of mirrors. A closed, contained world of abstraction and analogic expression, layer upon layer, in a self-referential interweaving of sign and symbol.
An afternoon at New York’s Museum of Modern Art:
‘What’s this?’ I asked the young lady, a curator-assistant, walking alongside me.
‘Oh, that!’ She said, ‘That’s Pollock. It’s painting about Painting.’
Any linguistic discussion on Language must be introduced with the cautionary note that you are diving headlong into the swirl of the Self-Loop. It is Language on Language.
So watch your step. And try not to take long leaps, however much that might impress the girls.
The number of theories floating around about Language are prodigious, even by the grant-induced profligacy of modern academic opinion.
Well, it all started by us imitating birds and animals, says one theory. It really started when men began living in groups, says another. Might be, but Man didn’t learn to speak until he discovered God and ritual, adds a third. That’s not it, it has to do with mother-child bonding, says a fourth. Of course not, it’s all neuro-muscular; it began with the facial muscles and the tongue.
The more widely followed of the newer theories posit some sort of gene, a patch, a point, in mind-brain space. We are not sure where it is, when or how this center came alive, or why on earth it did. But this mysterious center is where it all started. [Only a Professor lost in language would not see the deeply religious origin of such views.]
If you try and not let your sophistication-gene get reflexively activated, you’ll see that the above penetrating review of language is itself entirely in language.
All in language, including this and the lines above. [What’s all this talk about Self-Reference and Self-Loop?]
Words ‘Refer’; but ‘Refer’ is a word.
‘So how did Language originate?’
That’s language. A ‘Cause and Effect’ Aficionado.
‘And when did it begin?’
More language. The Temporal Man.
‘Any idea where?’
Still more language. The Spatial Man,
‘We all know that ‘Why?’ never has an answer, right?’
Deep language, but still language.
‘The questions are in Language. So they are invalid?’
Skeptical language, but still language.
‘So the answers are in Language. That does not make them wrong.’
Righteous language, but still language.
‘I think the Gene-Idea makes perfect sense. It’s all DNA and stuff.’
Faith language, but still language.
‘I don’t think you know the whole story. Something slippery here.’
Suspicious language, but still language.
‘As Wittgenstein claimed, is language itself the vehicle of thought?’
Thinking language, but still language.
‘None of this is very convincing. You might be right. But so what?’
Defiant language, but still language.
‘This is Bullshit!’
Angry language, but still language.
The most expressive language so far.
You can’t get to the ‘Origin’ of Language, an idea deeply embedded in a linguistic-understanding of Self and World, using Language [Language again. Yikes!]. If you do, you will build fine elegant models of the ‘Origin of Language’ and write the expensive 500 page tomes. But it has nothing at all to do with the origin of Language.
So how does one get to the ‘Origin of Language’, itself a linguistic construct? To start, you have to step out of language. And sit yourself down on a Meditation Mat.
Here is a related Post from my files that illustrates this idea and how ignoring this self-inclusion is often the only way to make Language meaningful as we know it.
‘Definition’ derives from the Latin: De Finito-‘to make finite’. In other words, to draw a line. to divide and to make Double. Definitions are co-dependent and have no life except in mutual relationship.
But how do I define ‘Definition’ when every definition of ‘Definition’ is itself a defined word?
All Inquiry begins with Definition. It is the center bolt of Rational Discourse. And the line limiting fraudulent bombast.
Definition can be verbal, as that provided by a Dictionary. It can be spatial, auditory, tactile; it can be explicit, implicit, smooth or crooked; static, dynamic, clear or vague.
You may not explicitly know the definitions, but are implicitly using them in any form of expression, logic or language. But there must be a boundary in order to define something. And there must be a definition, explicit or implied, in order to have a dialogue.
We’ve got ourselves a fenced space where the fence needs to be moved further and further out as we repeatedly try to fence it in. If you can’t define ‘Definition’ all Inference drawn is spurious precision. The Logic will prove whatever you want it to prove.
[In the wonder-world of the Self-Loop, the word with the most number of posted definitions the last time I checked seems to be the word ‘Set’, as in Mathematical Set, which is another word for ‘Definition’.]
So what’s the definition of ‘Love’? What’s that? You’ll tell me when you feel it? Touché!
Just as Epistemology studies ‘Knowing’ while already in a state of Knowing, Ontology studies ‘Being’ while firmly resident in a state of Being.
It is the Elephant in the Room, the one we all agree to ignore.
Existence, from the Latin ‘ex-sistere‘: ‘to stand forward, manifest’.
We are making an implicit ontological assignment, granting the status of ‘Being’ [Existence, ‘Is-ness’] anytime and every time we use the little word ‘Is’.
‘Is’ is arguably the most used grammatical link in the English Language.
The clutter and gossip of the world would die down nicely if a rule was passed that no man or woman on the planet may use the word ‘Is’ for a period of 24-hours.
Try it. Try and speak on your cell-phone for 10 minutes without using the word ‘Is’. Try and write a page in English without using any of its variants [was, will be, etc].
Its hard; but here is the strangest thing. This ubiquitous word, this word we use a hundred times a day in all its variations, has no formal definition, is in fact undefinable.
Very wise men have been trying to define it for a few thousand years and no one has scored anything more than a Wise-Gentleman’s ‘C’.
But that has not stopped our enterprising Universities from building a Subject out of it. A Subject called Ontology. In the same way that not having an honest definition for ‘Know’ did not discourage them from starting a Subject called Epistemology.
The single most frequent confounding across the world’s religious literature is the conceptualization and reification of ‘True Nothing’ as ‘Being’. It’s a millimeter short of Shūnyam. But in this business you miss by a millimeter, you miss by a mile.
‘Is’ is the highest abstraction possible of a named ‘Object’. A Modeled-Representation mounts on a platform held up by the words ‘Is’ and ‘Is-Not’. This is a terrifying idea. And this is where the most intellectually sophisticated investigators say: ‘Stop! No further!’
They, each one of them, still holds on to that slim slice of vanity, that last pretense to ‘Know’. ‘Being’, like ‘Thought’ and ‘Voice’ [Language] is very, very close to our skin. A claim to ‘Being’ in any of its variants is ultimately a claim to a ‘Self’.
It is nearly impossible to find two events that are perfectly uncorrelated in Nature. But would you like the privilege of being uniquely ‘Independent’? Give yourself a grant of immovable ‘Being’. You will show a correlation with all things as Zero.
But precisely because of its nearness to our skin it is that much more difficult to give workable examples [like say ‘Consciousness’]. The best that can be done is to give a list of excerpts from history that may convince you of what I am talking about.
Philosophers, Men of Religion, Mystics and the like tend to break into song and verse and solemn lecture on what a grand affair it really is. But this is not the final destination.
None of this is to be addled with such overwrought religious begats as Free-Will, Fate, Karma and so-on, deeply modeled ideas, products of a restless religious imagination, mounted on the uninvestigated presumption of a Separated ‘Self’.
The entire legal and political process of a culture is set by its beginning assumptions on the nature of the ‘Individual’. What does Crime and Justified Punishment mean if ‘Free Will’ is not assumed? What is casting an Election Vote mean if it does not speak your choice?
These are not just abstractions for dysfunctional philosophers. They underlie the very ground of what makes a Just Society, a proper Political Order. More on these as we merrily move along.
‘Being’ is at the heart of Upanishadic testament. As early as 1,000 BCE the terminus of ‘Being’ was well in play.
In the celebrated lines of the Katha Upanishad:
‘Not by speech, not by mind,
Not by sight is It be apprehended.
How else is It comprehended
Otherwise than as: ‘It is’ ?’
The First Inquirers of the Chandogya Upanishad settled for a ‘Subtle Inner Essence’ [See the Post]: ‘In the beginning there was ‘Being’ alone; the One without a second‘.
‘Being’ is at the heart of ‘Advaitha Vedantha‘.
It was Śaṅkarācārya [around 700 CE] who in his famously lucid Sanskrit reformulated the idea of Brahman and its articulation for the then modern ear as [Advaitha] Vedantha, the ‘Doctrine of the Non-Dual’, the dominant school of Intellectual Hinduism.
The terminus is a ‘Witnessing Being’, the ‘Original Inner, Immaculate ‘Self”. So it is that Śaṅkarācārya would declare in his seminal Gita Bhashya: ‘Atman is the ‘Knower of the Field’ [Kshetragnana]: the Witness of the three states of Waking, Dreaming and Sleep.’
And in his Vivekachudamani: ‘A liberated Being is one who sees himself as single and the witness…of the world of things…the substratum of all‘.
[I have several lengthy Posts on the evolution of Vedantha. I’ll get around to publishing them in time.]
‘Being’ is at the heart of the Bible.
In Exodus, Moses asks The Presence Its name and The Presence replies: Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh.
‘I am that I am…thus you shall say to the children of Israel, I AM has sent me to you‘.
The opening command, the first of the Ten Mosaic Commandments, is a categorical statement of Ontological Presence:
‘I AM the Lord your God who brought you …out of the house of Bondage…thou shalt have no other Gods before Me.’
Of course, Theologians, the intellectuals of the Faith, proceeded to unwrap all this in the only way they knew how.
A reified concept of ‘Being’ was developed extensively first by medieval, later by modern Theologians, which was tagged with a host of sophisticated abstract features: Eternal, Infinite, Omnipotent, Omnipresent, Good-Being, Ground of Being, and such. A list of preferred measurements for Man’s ideal ‘God’.
It kept the language above the common riff-raff who it was thought took the Bible literally.
‘Being’ is at the heart of Science.
Here is Albert Einstein:
‘Science is the endeavor to bring together by means of systematic thought, the perceptible phenomena of the world, into as thoroughgoing an association as possible.
To put it boldly, it is the attempt at the posterior reconstruction of Existence by the process of conceptualization…‘
Later, in a less declarative, more reflective moment, he modified it. ‘There is neither Evolution…nor Destiny: only Being’.
‘Being’ is at the heart of Classical Logic.
Aristotle and the Lyceum philosophers proposed ten categories among which Substance was ontologically primary. In other words, Substance is; and the world with its million features revolved around it.
The idea had been around awhile. In the first elements, Earth, Air, Fire, Water, and Space [or ‘Sky’], a list found in most early literate cultures, Earth [Prithvi] was the primary substance, the grounding element.
Get to ‘Substance’ and you get to the heart of the matter. It was the locus to which all attributes attach. ‘Matter’ remained unchanged as ‘Form’ evolved from Acorn to Oak, from Embryo to Man, in natural teleological fulfillment.
The material world matched the propositions of the propounded Logic. And Aristotle’s Logic in turn reflected the lines and contours of the propounded, modeled material world.
‘Being’ is at the heart of Philosophical Inquiry.
Here is Friedrich Hegel:
‘It is a natural assumption in philosophy, before we start to deal with its proper subject matter, viz. the actual cognition of what really is, one must first of all come to an understanding about cognition..a certain uneasiness seems justified..
For if cognition is the instrument, [it] sets out to reshape and alter it. If [it] is not an instrument but a passive medium through which the light of Truth reaches us, then again we do not receive this Truth as it is, but only..through this medium.
Either way we employ a means which immediately brings about the opposite of its own end..what is really absurd is that we should make use of a means at all…‘
Note how Hegel is acutely aware of the Self-Loop and warning against it. But Hegel, like Immanuel Kant [who was equally alert to the Self-Loop; see the later posts] never followed through on his own convictions, stopped short and turned back at the cliff’s edge.
Instead he transformed it in stages into the more manageable trinity: ‘Thesis, Anti-Thesis, Synthesis’ [a structure that Hegel actually credited to Kant].
From Marx and Mao to Derrida and ‘Deconstructionism’, intellectuals saw explanation here. The rest as they say, is history.
Heidegger circled in the vicinity of Shūnyam but never broke through.
And he had to invent a whole new terminology with achingly looped language [‘the possibility whose probability it is solely to be possible’] to bridge the sharp divide between where his readers stood and what he saw at the cliff’s edge.
Martin Heidegger’s roots were in Phenomenology, from Phainomenon, ‘what shows itself in itself’. And he was arguably the dominant influence on Academic Philosophy and high cafe- speculation for most of the last century. [I’ll take Les Deux Magots over a library any sunny day.]
Here is Martin Heidegger:
‘The indefinability of Being does not dispense with the question of its meaning but forces it upon us. Being..is the self-evident concept..in all our knowing and predicating.
Everyone understands ‘The sky is blue’, ‘I am happy’.. but this average comprehensibility only demonstrates the incomprehensibility. An enigma lies a-priori..
We do not know what Being means but already when we ask: ‘What is Being?’, we stand in an understanding of the ‘is’ without being able to determine conceptually what the ‘is’ means..‘
I knew an artist once in New York’s Greenwich Village, seeking fulfillment in the shades of beige and brown, and utterly dismissive of all philosophical rant. But he always kept a hard-cover edition of ‘Being and Time’, Heidegger’s most unreadable 600 pages, a strained translation from a nuanced High-German, on his Naguchi coffee-table.