Some aphorisms and observations on perception and cognition in the spirit of Rudolf Steiner’s Philosophy of Freedom and other early epistemological works (1)

The human being—as an I—first, in a pre-conscious activity of destruction, strips reality of its coherence. This is not something he does so much as something he is. To wit, the human being is situated in the world in such a manner that he bifurcates and disintegrates it in the manner indicated above as a condition for his perception and cognition of it. Hence, the activity of his consciousness consists in an initial reduction of being to pure chaos and nothingness—to non-being. 

We learn that we have slept not by sleeping, but through inference by the fact of waking. Similarly, we know that we disintegrated the true being of the object of our perception by the fact of its manifestation to our consciousness.

The initial annihilation of being proceeds by the extraction of (a) the concept from (b) the field of percepts to which (s) the former was lending coherence, structure, and organization. The latter (b) instantaneously disintegrates into dust, like matter without life. The Book of Genesis depicts the function of the concept as soul: 

“And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul…you return to the ground–because out of it were you taken. For dust you are, and to dust you shall return.” (2:7, 3:10)

Sense-perception effaces from a being everything that is not sensory, including its form, life, soul, and essence. When I sit across from another person, I see how he looks with my eyes, hear how he speaks with my ears, and so on. But I only know who he is by a higher form of cognition. Hence, knowing consists in restoring the elements which I first effaced as a condition for my sensory-perception. 

In this way, the sequence of sense-perception can be grasped: from the provisional duality of concept and percept, the human being effects their reunion out of his own free creativity. Put another way, following an unconscious process of disintegration, the spiritual activity of the I seeks to restore the fallout from this event to unity and to life. 

The above describes the process of cognition, which ordinarily only becomes conscious in the product of knowledge and not in the process. And yet, in a recognition of the architectonics of this process is the possibility for consciousness to awaken at a prior stage. In this way, consciousness would be kindled in thinking itself and not only in thoughts. The I would awaken to an integral participation in the evolution of Creation. 

In this light, every being would be known afresh—not as mind to object, but as cause to effect, as the sun to its light, or as speaker to speech.

It follows from the above that there can be no “problem of knowledge” in the classical epistemological sense of Descartes and Kant any more than the meaning of the words I write is withheld from me. Certainly the words of others are opaque to my understanding in this way to begin with, but only until I undertake this same process of death and resurrection described above in respect to them, at which point the speaker and I are one in spirit and I share in the meaning of what was expressed. 

The archetype of knowledge is creatio ex nihilo. Hence it is an imitatio Christi in identitatem Logos—“an imitation of Christ in his identity as the Logos”—for as it is written, “in the beginning was the Logos…All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.” (John 1:1, 3) As Christ rose from the dust on the third day, so knowledge is the final moment following death and entombment.

The new Creation shimmers before the backdrop of non-being. It is perennially fresh because it has never existed before, like the virginal birth of Venus, who floats on the foam of chaos, born on the scallop-shell of consciousness to arrive on the shore of knowledge. 

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6 Comments Add yours

  1. robstroud says:

    Very interesting reflections, Max.

    “…we know that we disintegrated the true being of the object of our perception by the fact of its manifestation to our consciousness.” I think I understand your point, but this is not the way my mind works.

    By that, I mean that I’m not philosophically-minded or oriented. I enjoy pondering some of these concepts, but always return to “practical” realm for considering how lives are affected by abstract concepts.

    That’s probably why in seminary I always preferred “practical theology” to “systematic theology.”

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Max Leyf says:

      Thanks for the comment. I don’t think we actually disagree about the relative unimportance of pure speculation. Plotinus wrote “Our general instinct to seek and learn will, in all reason, set us inquiring into the nature of the instrument with which we search.” God laid this instinct in us and also caused the existence of our minds. Hence they are both “good” and worthy objects of science.

      Plato described the end of philosophy as “the vision of the idea of the Good.” Among the early Christian philosophers, it was understood that “only God is good.” Theoria then refers to the vision that is capable of beholding God’s stamp on created things. Hence, theoria is the capacity that is correlative to the event of theophany. Theophany means “the appearance of God.” But of course, appearance is a function of the subject’s being and mode of perception. That is why ants don’t understand Plato or the Gospels. By the same token, we have to raise ourselves so as to become adequate to perceive what is far greater than we. In this, philosophy and theology can be our wings.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Max Leyf says:

      “To him whose elastic and vigorous thought keeps pace with the sun, the day is a perpetual morning. It matters not what the clocks say or the attitudes and labors of men. Morning is when I am awake and there is a dawn in me. Moral reform is the effort to throw off sleep. Why is it that men give so poor an account of their day if they have not been slumbering? They are not such poor calculators. If they had not been overcome with drowsiness they would have performed something. The millions are awake enough for physical labor; but only one in a million is awake enough for effective intellectual exertion, only one in a hundred millions to a poetic or divine life. To be awake is to be alive. I have never yet met a man who was quite awake. How could I have looked him in the face?

      We must learn to reawaken and keep ourselves awake, not by mechanical aids, but by an infinite expectation of the dawn, which does not forsake us in our soundest sleep. I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by a conscious endeavor. It is something to be able to paint a particular picture, or to carve a statue, and so to make a few objects beautiful; but it is far more glorious to carve and paint the very atmosphere and medium through which we look, which morally we can do. To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts.”

      —Thoreau, Walden (1854)

      Liked by 1 person

    3. Dear Max Leyf and Reverend Stroud,

      I have enjoyed reading this post and your conversation here.

      Max, I would like to inform you that there is a typo in your sentence “Hence, theoria is the capacity the is correlative to the event of theophany.” As far as I can ascertain from what you are trying to convey, the second “the” should have been “that”.

      Happy mid-September to both of you!

      Yours sincerely,

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Max Leyf says:

        Thank you kindly, sir; amended.

        Liked by 1 person

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