‘Being’: Upanishad To Bible, Aristotle To Einstein

 

‘Being’ is at the heart of Religious Text.

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 didn’t go all the way. They stopped short of Shūnyam, settling instead 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 Upanishadic testament. As early as 1,000 BCE the terminus of ‘Being’ was well in play. 


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.


Albert Einstein

‘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.


Hegel_portrait_by_Schlesinger_1831

‘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.


heidegger1968

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.

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