A short-list of Posts selected from the larger list [of about 200 Posts], a selection from the sections [about 20 or so] that make up this Site. They are in no particular order. I periodically pick new ones and retire the old. The Lay of the Land.
The Oak Ridge Atomic Research Center
Perhaps one of the strongest convictions of this strange 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.
Yagñá: The Central Religious Act
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 ǵʰu-tó-m, 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 the Latin, sacer: ‘to make sacred’] as used in the verses of the Rig Veda.
Or if you prefer a less severe term, ‘Divinity’, from the Latin: dyēus, later as Deus, Deity; from the Sanskrit: devam, ‘The Exalted Effulgent’
Or even more endearingly, the 8th century mystic-poet Sundarar’s call to Shivam. ‘Pitha’, literally, ‘[You] Delusional Madman’.
Self-Denial is the first order of Moral Code. All Virtue aligns with it. All Vanity scoffs at it. Religions offer their denouement at the limit of self-denial, in the perfection of self-mortification. They vary only in the details.
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.
[Yagñá 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.]
Cogito Ergo Sum!
I think I can disabuse a Man of anything, have him empty his wallet, hand over his wife. But I fail miserably, fall on my face, every time I try to deny him the exclusive ownership of his ‘Thoughts’.
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.
The Empty Class Of Logic
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, Unity, and Zero’ [‘The Meaning Of Symbols’].
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’-itself in words, 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.
Cratylus: ‘The Same River, Once’
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.’
‘The Objectivation Principle’
Science must be ‘Made Anew’. In other words, Science must first arrive at Shūnyam, settle into the terrain, and start over.
‘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..’
The First Law Of Consciousness
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.
‘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.
‘Awake And Asleep; Life And Death’
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.
The First Presumption Of Inquiry
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.
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.
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 First Principle of Rational Knowledge’
The Principle of Contradiction. In delightful irony, also called ‘ The Principle of Non-Contradiction’.
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.
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.
Lao Tzu’s: TAO And Joshu’s: ‘MU’
Lets wander a bit, East and West of ‘That‘.
‘That’ [Tát] 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-Negating 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. And Lao Tzu didn’t prissy around.
First he declares that the true Tao is Nameless. He then adds that nothing may be told about it. All in the opening verse.
Then he proceeds to write his poem, the seminal Tao Te Ching, 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.
Venice: Modus Indorum
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 Epistemological Pirouette
‘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.
[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.]
Immanuel Kant: ‘The Principles Of Knowing’
‘Without recourse to the conventional’ wrote Nāgārjuna [100 CE] ‘the ultimate cannot be shown’. For Shūnyam, the notion of ‘Ultimate’ is still a ‘Conventional’ construct.
Nāgārjuna was a rightly celebrated Buddhist Scholar-Monk and his reference to the ‘Ultimate’ is par for the course. But what needs to be noted convincingly is that such terms as ‘Proximate and Ultimate’ are themselves very much conventional terms.
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.
The Laws of Science
A hypothesis is never proved. It only stands unrejected. Via Negativa-Lite.
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.
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.
The ‘Bottomless Pit of Nonsense’
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.
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‘.
‘Form’: a core term in Classical Logic, later entering all English translations of the Hṛdaya [‘Heart’] Sūtra. The English word ‘Idea’ originates here.
This and all other excerpts from Plato’s Dialogues are from the Hamilton and Cairns, Princeton, ’61 Edition.
The Turing Machine
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.
The Mathematics Of Self-Reference
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’.]
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].
The Socio-Linguistic Matrix
‘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.
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.
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.
The Ontological Elephant
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.
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.
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.
‘Being’ And Logic: Aristotle
‘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.
On Ambitious Unfinished Gurus
‘Be A Lamp Unto Yourselves‘ were the famous last words of the dying Buddha. You are on your own on this one.
The central figure of the Rig Veda was the Rishi, the one who ‘Sees’ [hence ‘Seer’] and composes the hymn [sūkta]. But there is little talk of the Guru [related to the Latin Gravitas] an appellation of later consequence, a role meant for different purposes.
Gurus are the bedrock of an Oral/Apprentice tradition. They are indispensable in Classical Music, in Dance, in Natural Medicine and such where the means are transferable, the ends, specific and measurable. The lineages of the finest Gurus in such fields are impeccable. Not so in misty, open-ended claims such as ‘Truth’.
I am not fond of Gurus. The single biggest hurdle I faced was succumbing to and retracing my steps from the unbaked advice and scripts of half-done Gurus. [But then, you might be very fortunate in having found that extremely rare authentic Guru.]
Stay alert for lectures on the virtue of patience from a teacher who isn’t looking for a job to pay the rent, on Infatuation from one who has never been in Love, on the venality of sex from a celibate monk.
Take them out of their protected and privileged seclusion, ask them to find a parking-spot in a crowded city-center, and they quickly reduce to irate mortals.
Prophets, Pundits, Priests, Professors, Professional Philosophers, Masters, Mystics, Mullahs, Speakers-for-a fee, Writers-for-a-royalty. Gurus of every kind. Walk away.
[And in the spirit of the Self-Eating Expression, make sure to include Writers on the Web, such as this one.]
Give Me Rumi’s ‘Beloved’
‘Empty Logical Classes. Ontological Assumptions. Teleological Fulfillment.
Which planet are you from? This is pretentious bunk. Male testosterone rutted in a linear groove.
I pine for Rumi’s ‘Beloved’; not Heidegger’s ‘Being’.
Luckily for me, I never took any of it seriously. I am a woman. I move with my Heart. I dance with the Gopis, I too am in love with Krishna.
All this is ‘Man-Stuff’. I don’t see a single woman-author quoted in the list. Like every other Religion, the Dharma got hijacked by the male-monks and they get to write the Manual’.
The Bombing of Civilian Lebanon: 1982