The threefold relationship between truth, knowledge, and reality is a question at the very heart of philosophy and science. Theoria-press shares the essential concern of these disciplines. To approach this relationship from diverse perspectives has been the motive behind many prior investigations undertaken at Theoria-press, and the same also impels the present consideration.
Every soul harbours a more or less conscious longing to experience, theough knowledge, the union of truth and reality. Indeed, before the soul attains such knowledge, she can only feel cut off. To live a life of the philosopher is to become a pilgrim of that inner country where the union of truth, knowledge, and reality may be had. An impenetrable portal, however, appears to confront the human soul on its journey. As the Sphinx confronted Œdipus on his wanderings and barred his entry to Thebes, so dogma and doubt stand together as two guardians, brooding on the threshold to the soul’s destination.* No singular or axiomatic answer will grant passage in the face of such adversaries because it would merely play into the former’s hands and fail altogether to address the latter’s existential threat. One’s only deliverance, therefore, will consist in evolving one’s understanding so as to comprehend the subject from an higher vantage. Such a vantage announces itself through its scope—its capacity to encompass the diversity of the former within its survey. For this reason, the higher knowledge has no need to confront any given viewpoint on the exclusive stratum of understanding upon which the latter takes its stand. The present consideration, therefore, means to contribute towards this condition of panoramic apprehension. Thus, the guardians that one could not overcome through riddling and dialectic, one may o’er-perch through philosophical elevation. In material existence, wings precede flight, but in the intellectual realm, the sequence is reversed. For this reason, we intend to continue our inquiry into the subject of truth, knowledge, and reality from further perspectives.
In earlier considerations, we examined how the conventional scientific method first abstracts a given aspect of the world (i.e that aspect which lends itself to calculability and physical measurement) from its integral context, and then proceeds to regard the product of this abstraction as though it were the same as the whole from which it was abstracted. Abstraction, in itself, is a necessary component of cognition. It leads to error, however, when abstraction is taken as more than a methodological operation and its products are hypostasised into outer reality. In the latter case, abstractions are assumed as idols, and regarded in the place of the actual beings that were their source. Such a misapprehension characterises the scientific worldview that takes brute matter to be the fundament of the universe. We might call this phenomenon “the surreptitious synecdoche of material science”** since it is akin to a literary trope in application to the field of epistemology. Because of the different purposes of these two fields, what serves as a rhetorical device in poetry introverts its nature in science thereby to a become a methodological legerdemain. To substitute a part for the whole—abstraction for reality—is a deception when one’s proposed object of study is precisely that reality which one has now discarded. This situation manages to escape general notice, however, by the power of convention and by the Mephistophelean magic that science continually delivers in the form of technological advancement. In this way, the substitution of abstraction for being, or derivative for essence, easily avoids any rational contest. “It works,” people say, and brandish their toasters, or intelligent smartphones as proof of this assertion, when in fact both evidence and assertion keenly expose the error of their reasoning as well as the very spiritual ailment of our time. Given that people outsource their intelligence and connectivity to their electronics, the fact that feelong cut off is a general sentiment of today can hardly come as a surprise. Furthermore, the fact that this relationship goes virtually unmarked shows the idolatry of abstraction that has become the unconscious cult of the technocratic moderner.
Although such a condition escapes immediate recognition, it surfaces nevertheless through its consequences. The general sentiment of alienation that we indicated above is a symptom of the basic intentionality that the scientific human being adopts towards the world. This intentionality could be called either “scientific materialism” or “externality,” since these mean the same thing. In the material world, everything appears outside of, and apart from, everything else. Indeed, externality is the constitutive principle of the material world as such, since bodies of matter in space, by definition, exclude other such bodies from their physical locus. Many people, in our time, identify their essential being with their material bodies. As a result, it follows quite of a course that individuals feel isolated, separated, cut off. The most poignant tragedy of today is that people attempt to reconcile this alienation by adopting the same conception that created it in the first place.
No pursuit could be more futile than the attempt to resolve the experience of isolation without addressing the conditions that are continually re-creating it. Nevertheless, many people seek fulfilment in precisely the realm where it cannot be found. The former is an inner condition and from this it follows that fulfilment will not come from outside, since outsideness was the reason for the lack of fulfilment which one is now attempting to remedy. An human being does not live by bread alone, and especially not by the chemical and subatomic constituents of bread, like gluten or gluons. An unidentified famine of spirit incites myriad vain and frantic quests for material gratification. All of the sciences recognise the importance of adequate nutrition to promote the health of the physical body, and yet they tend to entirely overlook the diet that we provide our souls withal. While bread is food for the material body, the soul demands an immaterial sustenance of ideals, beliefs, and sentiments. The latter escape quantification, but are no less-vital for their imponderability. For this reason, and as a conclusion of the whole consideration above, it is supremely important to complement our conception of the world with those aspects that the method of material science first effaced.
To complete the world-picture that material science offers, one must first have understood it. The philosopher Immanuel Kant provides a representative expression of the modern natural scientific world-conception when he equates knowledge with mathematisation. In the words of the Sage of Königsberg: “In every department of physical science there is only so much science, properly so-called, as there is mathematics.” Thus, for Kant, what is knowable of reality is what is quantifiable. Writing in the eighteenth century, Kant was announcing a that trend has defined the intellectual evolution of the last five centuries. The latter began in earnest with the Scientific Revolution and has gained momentum in the time since then, like the inertial bodies of Newton’s Second Law of Motion. Thus, Galileo Galilei hypothesised an ontological dualism between (1) the qualities inherent in a given object and (2) those which the perceiver interpolated into the object but which in reality originated in the former. The first sort Galileo identified as those qualities of an object that could be quantified, and in the second kind, everything else. “I think,” Galileo wrote in 1623:
that tastes, odors, colors, and so on are no more than mere names so far as the object in which we locate them are concerned, and that they reside in consciousness. Hence if the living creature were removed, all these qualities would be wiped away and annihilated.
Several decades later, René Descartes fatefully codified the dualism that Galileo had posited. In this way, the former immortalised himself in intellectual history as the Father of Modern Philosophy and the eponymous founder of Cartesian Dualism. In the French philosopher’s own words:
it must certainly be concluded regarding those things which, in external objects, we call by the names of light, color, odor, taste, sound, heat, cold, and of other tactile qualities…that we are not aware of their being anything other than various arrangements of the size, figure, and motions of the parts of these objects which make it possible for our nerves to move in various ways, and to excite in our soul all the various feelings which they produce there (Principles of Philosophy, published 1644/1647).
Following Descartes’ ingenious formulation, the Galilean hypothesis rapidly became the de facto metaphysics of Western civilisation. The Cartesian cleft convincingly differentiated the measurable and the immeasurable aspects of experience, and further posited that they consisted of categorically separate natures. Natural science assumed the measurable aspects of reality as its exclusive concern and entirely disregarded the former.
In our time, the position that reality ultimately consists in material particles that exist in their own right entirely independent of the subject that conceives of them, represents a tacit consensus within the scientific culture. The view that the universe is fundamentally material spans the general scope of scientific disciplines. The well-known physicist and author Carl Sagan, for example, takes such a world-conception for granted when he writes “[The brain’s] workings—what we sometimes call mind—are a consequence of its anatomy and physiology, and nothing more” (Dragons ofEden, 1977). That a view might seem obvious, however, may offer more insight into our own conventions of thought than into the nature of the reality itself. The fundamental incoherence of such a conception, indeed, is patent to a consideration that has not adopted the hypothesis of universal materialism as its basic axiom. For example, the mind consisting in the brain, and the brain consisting in “anatomy and physiology, and nothing more,” on what grounds ought one to believe any assertion that such a mind should issue? A logical position is, according to such a model, a mere exudation of the brain, akin to a secretion of gall by the pancreas. To engage in intelligent discourse on the subject, the scientific materialist presupposes the very faculty that to which he seeks to deny existence. This may be called “sawing off one’s own branch from the tree of reason.” Nowhere in the anatomy and physiology of the brain could one discover the relation of one thought to another, and yet this relationship must constitute the essence of any logical discourse. Anatomical and physiological processes could at most reflect the activity of thinking, but they could not generate it. In any age whose reason had not been so clouded over by a foregone conclusion and its redemptive intelligence so outsourced to its smartphones, the point above would be unnecessary. G. W. Leibniz, for instance, demonstrated his clarity over the relationship between mind and brain with his famous “Mill Argument” in which he pointed out that, if one could expand the brain to a superhuman scale and then investigate its inner workings, one would at most discover cogs and pulleys, like the inside of a mill. Thoughts, however, would not be visible to such an investigation for the same reason that one cannot record a symphony with a pair of scales. One might argue that the physiology of the brain does indeed determine thoughts, and cite examples of LSD or low blood sugar as evidence. This relationship, however, can easily be comprehended if one conceives of the brain as a reflecting apparatus for the mind. As agitation to a pool will distort an image of the moon, for instance, so inebriation or hormone imbalances affects the brain’s fidelity in respect to the mind or spirit that it is mirroring. If scientific materialism seems self-evident today, this is likely because we have grown so accustomed to our theories that we take them to be facts and therefore blind ourselves to other possibilities.
A common assumption is that we see factual evidence with our eyes. Instead, we see facts with our ideas through our eyes. The former are not material, and in fact, “materiality” itself is an idea, an intentionality. The latter (i.e. eyes) are material. They are also a necessary, but not a sufficient condition for perception. Even with a perfectly-functioning visual organ, however, the world could not appear. Instead, one would be confronted with a meaningless and disconnected chaos of colour-gradients. Thus, there could be no world at all for perception without a complementary conceptual element to articulate itself within the sense-impressions. This fact should demonstrate the constitutive significance of the conceptual aspect of perceptible reality. Every idea, therefore, is a theory. As a theory, it discloses a corresponding aspect of reality and also engenders the facts that make up that aspect. The latter depend on the former for their appearance. Ideas, however, that are not recognised as such ossify into ideologies. Characteristic of ideological thinking is that one unconsciously inverts the epistemological relation between fact and theory, employing the results of perception to prove their cause. One then imagines the facts to exist from their own side irrespective of the theory that engendered them. The rational error of such an operation is plain to anyone who inquires into it, since to affirm the consequent constitutes a formal fallacy in logic and thus fails to produce a dependable conclusion. For this reason, evidence in support Cartesian Dualism—and the scientific materialism that is its corollary—does not prove its corresponding theories any more than a dark sky proves a solar eclipse, since the sky could be dark for other reasons, like dark glasses, or the twilight of the idols, etc…. In other words, scientific materialism is a theory, not a truth about reality, and to assume otherwise is profoundly unscientific.
A science therefore that presupposes the material objects of its knowledge while denying the immaterial activity of the knowing that produced them, cannot be called a true science. The science of sciences must set the process of knowing at its very centre. As Copernicus replaced the Earth as the heart of our domestic cosmos, so our scientific culture must recognise knowledge—both fact and act—as the intellectual Sun; the star of knowledge that discloses reality and truth together, and joins them in triunity. To anyone familiar with the difficulties that faced Copernicus in his time, resistance to this epistemological transition should come as no surprise.
*One might also name these guardians “fundamentalism” and “skepticism,” respectively.
** Alternatively, “the facetious facsimile of physical reality.”
With thanks to all sentient beings including Galileo & Descartes