PHILOSOPHY PATHWAYS ISSN 2043-0728
Issue No. 201 23rd March 2016
Edited by Peter Jones
I. 'Beyond the Quantum Collapse' by Marlon Jesspher B. De Vera
II. 'No More Soup' by Michael Levy
III. 'The Metaphysics of Nondualism and the Perennial Philosophy' by Peter Jones
The articles featured in this month's issue of Philosophy Pathways make for some pretty tough reading, or so it seems to the guest editor. There is a theme and it is about pushing philosophy beyond its usual academic limits. We begin with an article by Marlon de Vera discussing the implications of quantum collapse and the views held by Emmanuel Levinas on this phenomenon, drawing on his book Otherwise than Being or Beyond Essence. The topic is difficult and may be out of reach for the non-physicist and even for most of us, but philosophy will sooner or later have to face up to quantum mechanics (QM) and this may be just the kind of discussion that will be required. It sits well with the writings of the physicist Ulrich Mohrhoff, one of the few physicists who venture into this contentious area of study spanning physics, philosophy, religion and mysticism, and also with views of Erwin Schrodinger and other pioneers of QM who were not afraid to see that their discoveries had implications well beyond physics and lent plausibility to the Upanishadic view of Reality and Existence.
A lighter article follows, superficially at least, No More Soup by Michael Levy, discussing the more practical matter of the ego, its reification and the consequences of this for our lives. This connects the first and highly abstract article to more personal concerns, happiness, soteriology, ethics and so forth. It tells of a wise master's 'mistreatment' of his pupil in the cause of the 'dropping' of the ego and a recognition of its created and unreal nature.
The third article, by the editor, gives one possible summary of metaphysics. It is the outcome of a decade of trying to simplify the issues, believe it or not. It brings the two previous articles under the common umbrella of 'mysticism', 'nondualism' or what in metaphysics would be a 'neutral' metaphysical position. It is not widely recognised that the perennial philosophy, which at first glance may seem to be a fantastic journey into self-delusion, wishful thinking and terminal woolliness, is grounded on a definite metaphysical description of the world, one that can be defined, analysed and discussed like any other. The master who asks for more soup in the previous article must appeal to this description of Reality for a philosophical justification of his actions, and in the first Levinas may be seen to be appealing to it with his idea that philosophy must reach beyond itself for completion.
(c) Peter Jones 2016
About the editor: https:---
I. 'BEYOND THE QUANTUM COLLAPSE: LEVINAS' OTHERWISE THAN BEING TOWARDS AN ALTERNATIVE VIEW OF THE PHILOSOPHICAL CONCERNS IN QUANTUM THEORY BY MARLON JESSPHER B. DE VERA
This paper attempts to provide an alternative view of the philosophical concerns in quantum theory by connecting the problem of the quantum collapse, a central philosophical concern in quantum theory, with Levinas' philosophical search for what is otherwise than being in his 'Otherwise than Being or Beyond Essence.' A response to the question 'What does it mean to philosophize beyond essence, beyond being?' is first attempted by following Levinas' text. Two important connections -- 1) between quantum theory and the otherwise than being, and 2) between being and the quantum collapse -- are then discussed to explicate on the underlying notions of the alternative view that is being attempted. Finally, the connections between the otherwise than being and the inversion of the quantum collapse are explored, culminating in a thesis that the breakup of the quantum arrow of time, in the inversion of the quantum collapse, could be a locus of transcendence and of the beyond essence. An afterthought on the connection between quantum theory and ethics is also presented to conclude the paper.
Philosophy Beyond Essence
In attempting to respond to the question 'What does it mean to philosophize beyond essence, beyond being?' any serious reader of Levinas' Otherwise than Being or Beyond Essence would know that a straightforward categorical answer cannot be expected. Those who wish to immediately abandon the question without seriously considering it may even mockingly dismiss it with the tautology 'To philosophize beyond essence is to philosophize beyond essence.' But the reader who wishes to proceed further with the question is admonished early on (in p. 8) that 'to conceive of the possibility of a break out of essence... signifies a null-site (non-lieu)' and requires the surrender of 'the unconditional privilege of the question 'where?'' Thus, the reader who wishes to seriously respond to the question of what it means to philosophize beyond essence can only expect to be completely thrown out of his/ her philosophical comfort zones and struggle patiently with Levinas' text without holding on to any promise of an answer.
But with enough attention and patience, by following Levinas' own words, the reader may expect brief glimpses and flashes of what it means for a philosopher to break out of essence. In the search for the otherwise than being, it can be inferred from the text that transcendence can be conceived of first as 'a refusal to allow oneself to be tamed or domesticated by a theme' (p. 100), as philosophy's denial to 'congeal into essence what is beyond essence,' 'holding its breath' in order to hear 'the echo of the otherwise.' (p. 44). This refusal however is not mere negativity but also has a positive character in such a way that philosophy is likewise compelled to reduce the betrayal of thematization and look for 'the trace of sincerity which the words themselves bear and which they owe to saying as a witness' (p. 152), to search for 'the trace of infinity' (p. 117), for 'a trace of its impossible incarnation' (p. 161), in the encounter with the face of the other and in the infinite responsibility for the other which is...
'from a 'prior to every memory,' an 'ulterior to every
accomplishment,' from the non-present par excellence, the
non-original, the anarchical, prior to or beyond essence.'
One must be comfortable with the fragility of how the otherwise than being reveals itself in these traces, in a 'perhaps' which 'belongs to an ambiguity in which the anarchy of the Infinite resists the univocity of an originary or a principle' (p. 156). Nonetheless, in a rather mysterious manner, the otherwise than being can also arise with the purity like that of an 'itch' (p. 109).
The attempt to conceive of the possibility of a philosophy beyond essence invites the possibility of a 'silent discourse with oneself' (p. 171), guided by 'a pre-original reason... an anarchic reason' (p. 166), with an ignorance that is beyond consciousness, 'an open-eyed ignorance' and a 'non-erotic openness' (p. 177). It invites the possibility of a 'skeptical saying,' a skeptical discourse in the sense that it 'states the rupture, failure, impotence, or impossibility of disclosure' but wherein the saying and the said are not correlative (p. 168). It recognizes that in the traces of skepticism already in language (p. 170), philosophy can take on...
'significations that link up and implicate one another in
such a way as to lead to extreme and irreducible conceptual
possibilities, possibilities that go beyond the limits of a
dinary, to what is beyond the possible. Such conceptual
possibilities are substitution of one for another, the
immemorable past that has not crossed the present, the
positing the self as a deposing of the ego, less than
nothing as uniqueness, difference with respect to the other
as non-indifference.' (p. 58)
Given what has been said so far, philosophizing beyond being, beyond essence, can be thought of as a constant struggle against totalizing themes, a search for traces of the otherwise than being in language and in the encounter with the face of the other, which calls for a radically different sort of philosophical attitude, reasoning, discourse, and conceptualization. However, it can be seen that following Levinas' own words in attempting to address the question of what it means to philosophize beyond essence does not make the endeavour any less difficult or ambiguous. Thus, in an attempt for a little more concretization and contextualization of the question, I now proceed to relate it to one central philosophical concern in quantum theory -- the quantum collapse.
Quantum Theory and the Otherwise than Being
Quantum theory is a unified account of physical reality which relies on a model (the Schrodinger equation and its derivatives) that yields only probabilities and not deterministic results. This apparent ambiguity (or 'quantum weirdness') of how one of the most revolutionary scientific theories has a probabilistic character which seems to be in contradiction with the objective, deterministic character of macro-reality has been the subject of serious philosophical inquiry. The central philosophical concern has been the interpretation of quantum theory vis-a-vis macro-reality to elucidate the nature of the quantum collapse, which is the transition from probabilistic quantum reality to deterministic, objective macro-reality. From this alone, it can be seen that the efforts to reconcile quantum theory with conventional frameworks of understanding reality by theorizing about the nature of the quantum collapse is motivated by an agendum to create a totalized account of the being or essence of reality. Further discussion on this in relation to two major interpretative accounts of the nature of the quantum collapse shall be provided in the next section.
Given that the notion of the quantum collapse can also be thought of as a collapse to essence or a collapse to being, then conceivably, a notion of some sort of inversion of the quantum collapse, similar to what Levinas refers to as 'an inversion of essence' (pp. 70, 75) could have some merit in terms of providing perspective on the question of what is otherwise than being. Another connection that can be drawn between quantum theory and the question of what is to philosophize beyond essence has something to do with 'quantum weirdness' -- the sense of ambiguity and perplexity that arises from the seeming contradiction between quantum theory and conventional intuitions on macro-reality. Levinas talks about how 'obsession traverses consciousness countercurrentwise, is inscribed in consciousness as something foreign, a disequilibrium, a delirium' (p. 101), how 'the beyond has meaning only negatively, by its non-sense' in the realm of consciousness (p. 137), and in the manner by which transcendence is dissimulated by coherence...
'The interlocutor that does not yield to logic is
threatened with prison or the asylum or undergoes the
prestige of the master and the medication of the doctor.'
The notion of the otherwise than being or beyond essence is thought about in the realm of consciousness and coherence as a mystery, bafflement, and to some extent, a sort of madness or insanity. Thus, consciousness is always predisposed towards reducing transcendence into coherence, into sanity. In the same way, the whole project of elucidating the nature of the quantum collapse can be thought of as an effort to reduce 'quantum weirdness' into a coherent account of reality within the realm of consciousness. Thus, conceivably, there could be a trace of the otherwise than being in refusing this reduction of 'quantum weirdness' into coherence, and potentially in attempting to conceive of the possibility of transcendence beyond the quantum collapse.
On the other hand, quantum theory has already been reconfigured in a number of ways and presented as some kind of path towards transcendence such as in cases where quantum theory has been linked to certain forms of mysticism. It is not difficult to imagine how images of the realm of uncertainty, or of parallel universes can be integrated into certain formulations of the spiritual experience. However, most of these conceptualizations of quantum theory as transcendence are totalized accounts within the immanence of being. Thus, such accounts of transcendence would be what Levinas would refer to as artificial.
'As disclosed the other enters into the same, and the
experience of transcendence immediately becomes suspect of
artifice... the effects of some theatre machinery behind
the promise of transcendence.' (p. 182)
I would like to think that drawing a connection between quantum theory and Levinas' notion of the otherwise than being is not purely arbitrary and fanciful given what has been said above about some of the parallelisms between the central philosophical concerns in quantum theory with Levinas' search for what is beyond essence. Thus, in this paper, I intend to employ Levinas' text as a lens towards an alternative view of the philosophical concerns in quantum theory, particularly towards raising the question of whether there could be traces of transcendence in challenging the problematization of the quantum collapse. Likewise, I think that this attempt could also provide a small enrichment for the discussion on the question of what it means to philosophize beyond essence.
Being and the Quantum Collapse
In response to 'quantum weirdness,' elucidating the nature of the quantum collapse, reconciling the probabilistic character of quantum theory with the deterministic character of macro-reality, has been taken as a primary philosophical concern. Some efforts have been directed towards a return to determinism, such as Einstein's position that quantum theory is an incomplete theory with missing variables or simply a statistical theory, much like demographic statistics, which provides a meaningful picture for a population but is meaningless when an individual system is considered. Another attempt towards a return to determinism is Bohmian theory, or the pilot-wave hypothesis, which provides an alternative to wave-particle duality, a fundamental conception behind quantum theory. Both attempts have not been sufficiently successful and in fact, Einstein's position on the existence of hidden variables has been refuted experimentally. Thus, the problem of the quantum collapse stands and 'quantum weirdness' remains. This leads one to ask if such attempts to return to determinism are illustrative examples of what Levinas pertains to when he talks about how scientists could have the tendency of 'expounding an ideology as a science' (p. 58). Quantum theory has brought significant discomfort to scientists who hold on to determinism in science almost as some sort of salvation.
Science cannot seem to tolerate any 'refusal to be assembled into representation' (p. 51) and so quantum theory cannot remain as 'weirdness' but must be thematized into a totalized account within the realm of being. This is the very agendum of the problematization of the quantum collapse, to 'cast in the mould of the known... anything unknown' (p. 99). Such 'is the price that manifestation demands' (p. 6). Because certainty is 'the guide and guarantee of the whole spiritual adventure of being' (p. 99), the two major interpretative attempts in response of the problem of the quantum collapse are accounts of how the realm of uncertainty is reduced to the realm of certainty, as the following discussions would show.
The first major interpretative attempt is the Copenhagen interpretation, usually attributed to Niels Bohr, which posits that what drives the transition from probabilistic quantum reality to deterministic reality is the conscious mind of the human observer. In other words, quantum theory defines the set of probable outcomes of the physical interactions among particles and forces but it is the mind of the human observer which would ultimately determine the final outcome. From this description alone, it is not difficult to immediately draw parallelisms with Levinas' text. Levinas states early on that the subjectivity in transcendence, as opposed to the subjectivity in the realm of being, is 'no longer in the element of consciousness' (p. 13) because 'the subjective movement of cognition thus belongs to being's very essence' (p. 61). In his discussions on intentionality as a modality of being 'in which intentionality 'constitutes' the universe' (p. 33, referring to Husserl), Levinas likewise talks about the observer -- 'who looks' (pp. 23, 27) -- and speculates that 'looking amounts to being.' Levinas conceives of self-consciousness as arche (p. 78) and thus contrasts between the subjectivity of a perceiver and the subjectivity in proximity (p. 82). In the role of 'the subject in the manifestation of being... the subject also manifests itself' (p.134) and so in consciousness, the observer also shows itself forth in being.
I think that it is no accident that the proponents of the Copenhagen interpretation, which has been characterized as a positivist or subjective idealist interpretation, elected the mind of the observer (or intentionality, consciousness), a modality of being, as the lead actor in their conception of the quantum collapse. In doing so, the quantum collapse becomes almost congruent with the showing forth or manifestation of being. If quantum theory is to be a fully meaningful scientific theory, it has to be assimilated into a totalizable account within the realm of being, and what better manner of totalization than to integrate quantum theory into the account of being's manifestation in intentionality and consciousness.
The Copenhagen interpretation can be criticized as motivated by the agendum of reintroducing the role of free will into science, something that deterministic science precludes. This is perhaps to present an argument of how the human free will 'transcends' scientific materialism. Levinas, however, contrasts freedom of choice against freedom in responsibility (p. 76) as the freedom in transcendence at the 'hither side of freedom and non-freedom' (p. 86), neither freedom of choice nor slavery (p. 105), a freedom that is anchored to the infinite responsibility for the other (pp. 115-116). Thus, the effort to reintroduce the role of free will as some sort of transcendence beyond deterministic science is still a movement within the immanence of being and does not point towards the transcendence that Levinas refers to. The Copenhagen interpretation can be criticized as another example of 'expounding an ideology as a science' and can likewise be problematic as a scientific interpretation because it invokes a dualism wherein the human mind resides in some extra-physical reality.
The Copenhagen interpretation, however, fits well with a conception of the quantum arrow of time, which reduces the flow of time as a function of the quantum collapse, of the transition from uncertainty to certainty. It also fits well with Levinas' notion of temporalization as a modality of essence. Levinas states -- 'Time is reminiscence and reminiscence is time, the unity of consciousness and essence' (p. 29) as opposed to diachrony which is a modality of transcendence (p. 38).
The second major interpretative attempt is the many worlds interpretation, which posits that the probable outcomes defined by quantum theory are all equally real in deterministic reality, and thus the many worlds interpretation is usually visualized in terms of the image of parallel universes. Part of the visualization is the notion that there are infinitely many parallel universes. In spite of its references to infinity, it is not difficult to see that the many worlds interpretation, as an attempt to elucidate the nature of the quantum collapse, is still an account within the sphere of being. The many worlds interpretation is a thematized account of infinity, while Levinas states early on in his text that 'the Infinite is non-thematizable' (p. 12). Levinas further elaborates that the Infinite 'is not elaborated according to the scenario of being and consciousness... is not an extrapolation of the finite' (p. 154), but instead it should be conceived of as 'an infinition of the infinite, as glory' (p. 93), an infinity 'in the begininglessness of an anarchy and in the endlessness of obligation' (p. 140), in 'a life outside of essence of nothingness' (p. 142). The notion of parallel universes in the many worlds interpretation, on the other hand, can be thought of as a conception of infinity that is 'an extrapolation of the finite,' or as 'synchronized alterity' (in reference to p. 90, in the discussion of alterity that cannot be assembled 'into a synthesis in the synchrony of the correlative'), or simply as an effort to reduce disorder into order (p. 101). Thus, the account of the many worlds interpretation never really breaks out of essence but instead provides an image of parallel universes, within the realm of being, which can be romanticized towards an artificial account of transcendence.
It has been shown in the discussions in this section that the problematization of the nature of the quantum collapse ultimately drives the philosophical discourse on quantum theory towards a thematized, totalizable account within the realm of being, of essence. This then begs the question of whether there could be a trace or a glimpse of transcendence in attempting to philosophize beyond the quantum collapse, a question which shall be explored in the next section.
Beyond the Quantum Collapse
Going beyond the quantum collapse, in a manner inspired by what Levinas refers to as the inversion of essence (pp. 70, 75), the 'turning inside out' of intentionality and consciousness (p. 48), is not a simple reversal from the realm of certainty, of deterministic and objective macro-reality, towards the realm of uncertainty in quantum reality. This movement would still remain within the immanence of being, within the totalizability of essence.
Levinas talks of an ambiguity which 'is the condition of vulnerability itself, that is, of sensibility as signification' (p. 80). However, in his discussions of 'the very inordinateness of infinity,' Levinas refers to this ambiguity as not mere uncertainty, 'not an indetermination of a noema' (p. 94). Levinas elaborates further in his discussion of skepticism and reason to stress the distinction between uncertainty and transcendence.
'This danger will appear to knowing as uncertainty, but it
is transcendence itself, before certainty and uncertainty,
which arise only in knowledge.' (p. 167)
Thus, in order to break out of essence, the quantum collapse cannot simply be reversed into a realm of uncertainty, to the realm of the set of possible outcomes, which is reducible to determinism either by the freedom of choice of intentionality and consciousness or by the an artificial infinity that is the extrapolation of the finite. Transcendence is not merely a break out of determinism towards uncertainty, but towards ambiguity, towards a restlessness that is 'not a dialectical scission, nor a process of equalizing difference' (p. 107), towards a passivity that is 'the reverse of certainty that falls back on itself' (p. 56), a passivity that is 'the way opposed to the imperialism of consciousness' (p. 92).
It seems now that the discussion has been led towards the same perplexity inherent to when the question on what it means to philosophize beyond essence was first invoked. It has been shown that philosophizing to elucidate the nature of the quantum collapse is an endeavour within the realm of being and essence. An initial attempt has been made to conceive of the possibility of breaking out of essence by going beyond the quantum collapse but it has also been shown that the trace of transcendence cannot be glimpsed in simply reversing the quantum collapse towards uncertainty. Could there be a trace of transcendence in the attempt to go beyond the quantum collapse?
I now proceed to state an initial thesis on how a trace of transcendence can be glimpsed in the attempt to go beyond the quantum collapse. I think the trace is potentially revealed in the breakup of the quantum arrow of time, in the inversion of the quantum collapse. If the notion of the quantum arrow of time, wherein the incarnation and flow of time is reduced as equivalent to the quantum collapse, to the transition from uncertainty to certainty, then the inversion of the quantum collapse cannot be the mere reversal of time, but instead, it is the breakup of time, which can be initially thought of as a breakup of time towards uncertainty. When the reversal of the quantum collapse is thought about in the case of the interaction among particles and forces, or in other words, in the case of quantum states, then the reversal towards uncertainty can be thought of as simply a transition towards a set of possible outcomes, a set of possible quantum states. However, when the reversal of the quantum collapse is thought about in the case of time, then the resulting thought is ambiguous -- a mix-up of the elements of time, a breakup of time. Could this simply be a breakup into a quantitative infinity of finite temporal parts? This cannot be a reversal into the set of possible temporal parts, which is a recuperation into the realm of being, instead, this is the breakup of the very dimensional axis of time. Conceivably, there could be many other ways of thematizing this ambiguous breakup of time but I sense that at this juncture, the tension and the resistance is already coming from the side of thematization against the apparent ambiguity, instead of the usual scenario wherein the attempt to articulate an ambiguity needs to exert an effort against thematization.
An attempt can then be made to conceive of the possibility of pointing this ambiguous notion of the breakup of time in the inversion of the quantum collapse towards Levinas' conception of anarchy and infinity, 'a time that does not enter into the unity of transcendental apperception' (p. 140), an infinity that refuses the 'assembling by reminiscence... an irreversible divergency from the present like that of a past that was never present' (p. 154), an infinity that 'no theme, no present has a capacity for' (p. 146). This initial thesis can be restated as such -- to philosophize beyond essence, beyond being, in relation to quantum theory, is to philosophize about the breakup of the quantum arrow of time in the inversion of the quantum collapse.
I recognize that this thesis is highly conjectural and might be very easily demolished by an expert theoretical physicist or a philosopher who has extensively studied Levinas. Nonetheless, I think there is at least a small merit in articulating it through this paper and my only hope is that this paper could provide at least a little enrichment in the discussion on the search for what is otherwise than being and could raise the faintest voice questioning the preoccupation with the elucidation of the quantum collapse as the central philosophical problem in quantum theory.
An Afterthought: Quantum Theory and Ethics
I am reminded of quantum entanglement, a related concept within quantum theory which has been somewhat linked to ethics in a manner that might be judged as fanciful but which I think is somehow sensible. The illustration of quantum entanglement that I usually recall is the image of two particles with opposite spins within a system wherein there is a law for the conservation of total spin. Even if the two particles are separated by great distance, if one particle changes spin, then the other particle also changes spin in order to conserve the original total spin of the system, as if the two particles are entangled. The following ethical statement is an example of how quantum entanglement can be interpreted in relation to ethics -- everyone is responsible for everyone else because whatever everyone does affects everyone else even though one's actions may seem detached. Such an account of ethical responsibility that is related to quantum entanglement, although it conceives of ethical responsibility as something beyond the freedom of choice, is still tied down to a totalized account of the being of the entanglement among beings.
Conceivably, the thesis articulated above on the possibility of philosophizing beyond essence in the breakup of the quantum arrow of time in the inversion of the quantum collapse could also point towards a different sort of ethical responsibility related to quantum theory, in line with Levinas' thrust of finding 'for man another kinship than that which ties him to being' (p. 177) -- the infinite responsibility for the other as the locus of transcendence.
Barr, Stephen M. 'Faith and Quantum Theory.' Reprinted in The Best American Spiritual Writing 2008, ed. Philip Zaleski, 1-10. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2008.
Camilleri, Kristian. 'Constructing the Myth of the Copenhagen Interpretation.' Perspectives on Science 17, no. 1 (2009): 26-57.
Everett, Hugh III. ' 'Relative State' Formulation of Quantum Mechanics.' Reviews of Modern Physics 29, no. 3 (1957):454-462.
Kleppner, Daniel and Roman Jackiw. 'One Hundred Years of Quantum Physics.' Science, New Series 289, no. 5481 (2000): 893.
Lessl, Thomas M. 'Gnostic Scientism and the Prohibition of Questions.' Rhetoric and Public Affairs 5, no. 1 (2002): 133-157.
Levinas, Emmanuel, translated by Alphonso Lingis. Otherwise than Being or Beyond Essence. Seventh printing. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: Duquesne University Press, 2008.
Tegmark, Max and John Archibald Wheeler. '100 Years of Quantum Mysteries.' Scientific American, February 2001, 72-29.
Wallace, David. 'The Arrow of Time in Physics.' in A Companion to the Philosophy of Time, eds. Adrian Bardon and Heather Dyke. Wiley-Balckwell, 2013.
1. All page references and quotations from the text of Levinas' Otherwise than Being or Beyond Essence that are made in this paper are based on -- Levinas, Emmanuel, translated by Alphonso Lingis. Otherwise than Being or Beyond Essence. Seventh printing. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: Duquesne University Press, 2008.
2. With the assumption that the translation is sufficiently faithful to the original.
3. This paradox -- 'the otherwise than being reveals itself' -- is resorted to given the current inability to think of a better available articulation.
4. This paper provides first a brief general discussion on the question of what it means to philosophize beyond essence, and then proceeds to relate this question to the philosophical concerns in quantum theory. Thus, it is not the intent of this paper to provide an extensive discussion of the conception of the infinite responsibility for the other and of the traces of the otherwise than being in the encounter with the face of the other, but it might be touched on in appropriate junctures in this paper.
5. The explications of quantum theory used in the discussions in this paper are primarily based on the following introductory articles on quantum theory -- Daniel Kleppner and Roman Jackiw, 'One Hundred Years of Quantum Physics,' Science, New Series 289, no. 5481 (2000): 893-898 ; Stephen M. Barr, 'Faith and Quantum Theory,' reprinted in The Best American Spiritual Writing 2008, ed. Philip Zaleski (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2008), 1-10; and Max Tegmark and John Archibald Wheeler, '100 Years of Quantum Mysteries,' Scientific American, February 2001, 72-29.
6. This reminds me of what Thomas M. Lessl calls 'gnostic scientism.'
7. Consciousness is likewise contrasted against subjectivity in p. 25.
8. Kristian Camilleri, 'Constructing the Myth of the Copenhagen Interpretation,' Perspectives on Science 17, no. 1 (2009): 26-57.
9. David Wallace, 'The Arrow of Time in Physics,' in A Companion to the Philosophy of Time, eds. Adrian Bardon and Heather Dyke (Wiley-Balckwell, 2013)
(c) Marlon Jesspher B. De Vera 2016
II. 'NO MORE SOUP' BY MICHAEL LEVY
There is an old folklore story that goes something like this...
One day a student heard of a great wise master. After many trials and tribulations on his journey he located the wise sage. He went down on his hands and knees and begged.
'Master please teach me enlightenment.' The master relied, 'Go into the kitchen where you will find angry cooks and fetch me a bowl of soup.'
He went into the kitchen and was badly beaten for asking for soup but he persisted and fetched the master the soup. The student continued to ask the master for enlightenment and the master would only ask for more soup. This practice went on every day for ten years. Then on the tenth anniversary the student, all battered and bruised, brought the master a bowl of soup. The master stood up, took off one of his shoes and slapped the student in the face with it and walked out the room... At last the student became enlightened.
This may seem like a cruel story on the surface and when we look a little deeper we find how cruel it really is, but in the cruelty an awareness of wisdom's light shines through the gloom.
We can view the story in a simple way of following a demanding boss who we work for or a demanding close relative or friend. However, there is a deeper significance to the story... You see, we all have an ego that we believe to be the master of our domain. This is our 'real identity.'... This is who we think we are.
The ego-master holds many negative emotions in its memory banks. It sends us out in the world with anger, hatred, fear, jealousy, worry, anxiety. When it asks for new possessions and we do not obtain them, we may experience disappointment and resentment. Perhaps we have a belief system we live by, and if we induce the wrong reaction from people who do not believe the way we do then we may feel rejected. Sometimes contradictory beliefs can turn a small difference of principles into a major war.
We beat ourselves up with the negative emotions from other people and our own response. We keep going back in our memory to the person we think we are and that identity builds more power and demands more things. It wants these demands satisfied. Unfortunately, they can never be satisfied. Then one day as we fetch and carry for our master to meet its continuous undermining demands, it slaps us in the face with a debilitating illness.
If we do not wake up and become aware of the monster we have innocently created it will not stop its commands. It will still persist with its requirements with no mercy, even though we have a disease, until we get the final slap in the face, which is a premature death, before our actual life-span was due to expire.
Human beings cannot live outside Universal laws. Mortal beings cannot live independently of the laws of nature. Everyone on earth is dependent on Earth's food, water and air. Every person on earth knows that, but most people have forgotten their dependence on the inner spirit that created/evolved them and thus suffer a life filled with disappointments and torments.
Much of humanity today is allowing ego's will power to take over from the soul's silent wisdom. More and more people are becoming distant and independent of spirit's will. Not only in the scientific world, media or academia but also many religions have distanced themselves from an authentic spirit and replaced it with a macho God that demands we follow 'Him' or else all hell will break loose.
When they do follow 'him' many fear living in Hell's kitchen asking for more soup. If religions are so cool, why are most followers still beaten up by their own guilt complex? Maybe it is because a life that is viewed from a predisposed yesteryear script and an expectant joyful arrival once they get to Heaven only leads to an unsatisfactory, untruthful, present day existence.
We are all particles of vibrational strings that sail around the universe humming de-lightful melodies. If we live as happy musical notes we will sing our songs wherever we go. All the birds and bees will be delighted to join in the chorus. Now take a pen and write these words and practice them as your Mantra...
Joy... Joy... Joy
Silent... Silent... Silent
Vacant... Vacant... Vacant
After a while, you may desire to keep a journal of daily events. It is great fun to enjoy observing... de-pen-dance in-spirit.
(c) Michael Levy 2016
III. 'THE METAPHYSICS OF NONDUALISM AND THE PERENNIAL PHILOSOPHY' BY PETER JONES
My involvement with Dr. Klempner and the Pathways school began when I signed up as an amateur enthusiast to write a dissertation. I had stumbled upon what seemed to be the only possible solution for metaphysics and wanted to get my ideas organised and on paper in order that mistakes would become clear to make it possible for others to examine my solution and offer objections that might lead to its modification or reveal it as a failure. I needed a reality-check. I also needed to learn how to communicate, an ongoing process.
The dissertation took five years to research and write. The help and advice I received along the way was invaluable and exactly what was required. The version archived by Pathways turned out to be a draft for a much-improved version now readable elsewhere. This essay more or less summarises its contents. At this length, (perhaps at any length), it cannot deal with all possible objections but I know of none that cannot be met.
Metaphysics is usually considered to be an immensely complex area of study, as well as being dull and pointless. Yet it is the study of first principles, and first principles cannot be complicated. It is not even clear that there can be more than one of them. Metaphysics is the study of the world by 'reduction' or at the most general level, and 'reduction' clearly implies a progressive shedding of complexity. Accordingly, we would not expect metaphysics to be complicated, just conceptually and psychologically difficult. Metaphysical questions are usually capable of being understood by anyone over the age of twelve, and if the professionals make the subject impossibly complex then this cannot be because they are on the right track.
The proposal here would be that metaphysics is profoundly simple when examined at the level of first principles, the level at which it must be examined, just as we would expect, and, further, that at this level it can be solved with a single sword-stroke. The problem is only that making sense of the solution would be a very different matter and could take a lifetime or more. Worse, if it is correct then to understand it fully would be to understand Reality and Existence fully, and this could never be done by studying a map. This difficulty need not be an obstacle to us in formal metaphysics, however, since once we have defined our terms we are concerned only with analysis. Few people understand E=Mc2 and fewer still the phenomena to which these letters refer, but we do not doubt that it is a correct theory and safe prediction. Comprehension and plausibility could ever only follow from an unpacking of the simple global view presented here into a more complex and developed theory capable of addressing the details and of showing itself to be capable of dealing with them. The details, however, are not where any solution to metaphysics will lie. A solution must be general, global, resting on principles that can be applied wherever and whenever we meet a metaphysical problem, and it must be very simple.
The approach we are taking here avoids the chaos into which metaphysics descends when it begins by examining particular philosophical problems prior to gaining a clear overview of the field. The biggest mistake that can be made in metaphysics, it seems to me, is to attempt to solve its problems one at a time. It would be miss the whole point of the game. Metaphysics is the board-room of knowledge, where a total breadth of vision is not optional. To deal with the details of the puzzle we must be able to see the picture on the box, and cutting the picture up into fragments before studying it as a whole would be an odd thing to do. Metaphysics is the search for a general theory or 'theory of everything', and for this we must fly high above the landscape of knowledge looking down at the grand picture.
Anyone who has spent half an hour wrestling with a few metaphysical dilemmas will have gone some way towards verifying the situation in which metaphysicians invariably find themselves. The situation is this. If we were to make a list of metaphysical problems it could be arranged in the binary form of two columns, where every theory in the left-hand column would be paired with its counter-theory in the right-hand column. Note that none of these would be 'theories' in a scientific sense of this word, just isolated conjectures on local problems or 'positions'. These contradictory and complementary pairs would include all the famous 'isms' such as Materialism-Idealism, Internalism-Externalism, Theism-Atheism, Freewill-Determinism, Dualism-Monism and so forth, and then One-Many, Mind-Matter and so on and any other contrasted pairs of metaphysical views, such as the view by which space-time must be either a continuum or a series of points, the view by which the space-time world must be real or unreal, the view by which the 'self' is either real or unreal, the view by which ethics are either subjective of objective and so forth. These would be the well-known horns of the many ancient and venerable metaphysical dilemmas that we want to resolve.
This list of paired metaphysical conjectures would be a long one but we would not need to examine it closely for a global solution. It is well-known that that none of these pairs of counterposed conjectures work. This would be the motive for logical positivism, mysterianism, dialethism and various other arguments for abandoning metaphysics as hopeless. It would be the reason why our dogmatically anti-esoteric academic philosophy makes no progress from century to century and why nobody expects it to do so, for the undecidability of all these pairs of selective conclusions is the entire excuse for it. Anyone who pursues a metaphysical question with a little perseverance is certain to end up facing an impossible choice between two demonstrably absurd theories. For many questions this problem would arise almost as soon as we ask it and is easy to verify.
Let us not ignore this well-known fact, as is the inexplicable practice in professional philosophy, but take it on board. By doing so we can massively simplify the issues. Here are four propositions which are global, truly metaphysical and that condense a great many issues and claims into very few words. They take us from the beginning to the end of metaphysics. The end of metaphysics would be mysticism, where analysis and theory turns to experiment and practice, but we need not go beyond formal or speculative metaphysics in order to judge the plausibility and significance of all of these statements or to judge whether they would work as a solution for metaphysics, subject to an investigation of their wider implications.
1. The Universe is reasonable
2. All positive metaphysical positions are logically indefensible
3. A neutral metaphysical position is logically defensible
4. The Universe is a Unity
Proposition 1: The Universe is reasonable.
Definitions: As this is a metaphysical discussion the term 'Universe' would mean 'Reality', 'Cosmos' or 'Everything' such that there would be no plural. The term 'reasonable' here would mean that a true explanation of the universe would be consistent with Aristotle's 'laws of thought' and rules for the dialectic, thus with the way human beings usually think.
Comments: This proposition states that a true description of the universe would not require a modification to the laws of the dialectical logic described by Aristotle nor ask us to abandon our usual way of thinking. There would be no true contradictions. The universe would not be paradoxical, logically absurd or terminally incomprehensible. Omniscience, were we ever to achieve it, would not cause us cognitive dissonance. The universe would make sense in principle, even if it might be extremely difficult to make sense of it.
We can read P1 as an axiom or a factual claim. Usually philosophers adopt this 'reasonableness' proposition as a necessary starting assumption and then go on to assume, in addition, that it must forever remain no more than an assumption. We must start in the same way but we need not go on to make the second assumption. We can interpret P1 as a theoretical axiom, a basis for a methodology and a statement of intent, but it is on our list of factual propositions because it can be withdrawn as an axiom and established as an analytical result from a study of the other three propositions.
One reason for beginning with P1 would be to make it clear that the approach we are taking to metaphysics here is essentially rational and grounded in reason. It leads us to the view of the Upanishads and the Buddha, Lao Tsu and Erwin Schrodinger, admittedly, this cannot be helped, but it makes no 'appeal to mysticism', miracles or necessary ignorance along the way, or to any privileged knowledge. Our four propositions are strictly metaphysical. The common idea that there is some fatal inconsistency between logic and mysticism such that any 'rational' philosophy must exclude the possibility that the perennial philosophy is true is a hang-over from the past and cannot be justified by any evidence or sound argument and in this internet age, with so many fabulous explanatory texts available on demand, it can reasonably be called a beginner's mistake. The correct approach would be to logically prove that a rational thinker must reject the perennial philosophy. To succeed in this project we would have to falsify one or more of the propositions listed here. There would be no other way to do it. The idea that mysticism presents a woolly doctrine that is not a clear target for analysis is sustainable only if we do not do the analysis.
Proving that Buddhism, Taoism and so forth are a lot of nonsense is just the sort of thing I used to assume professional philosophers got paid for doing. After all, they usually express strong views on these matters. I was very naive. It turns out that they very rarely think about these issues, preferring to endorse a communal fantasy as to what lies beyond the walls of the Academy. Colin McGinn's book The Making of a Philosopher, in which he charts his intellectual development from teenager to tenured professor, offers us a useful and entertaining introduction to philosophy and I often recommend it, especially to young people. I do so sincerely here. I envy his communication skills and organised mind. It is also a very good illustration of what happens when we buy into the modern philosophy department's idea of what constitutes intellectual development. The tenured professor can no more solve a problem than the teenager, lost in a world where everybody believes that metaphysics is incomprehensible and that mysticism is nonsense. It does not seem to occur to the inhabitants that these two beliefs might be causally connected. For the sake of human society and what remains of life on Earth, and hopefully before it is too late, professional philosophy should stop relying on entrenched opinions and do the sums. This would put paid to materialism and other socially corrosive fantasies.
We come to our second proposition. This is the big one. It encapsulates the whole of metaphysics. For me it would be the most important statement that can be made in formal metaphysics and the most helpful for any understanding of it.
Proposition 2: All positive metaphysical positions are logically indefensible.
Definitions: The word 'All' here makes this a global proposition. It is an unequivocal statement about one entire class of metaphysical positions and it takes no prisoners. A 'positive' position would be any one of the two extreme position we might take up on any metaphysical question, thus all of the 'theories' in the two columns we spoke of earlier. Synonyms would be 'partial', 'extreme' or 'selective'. A metaphysical 'position' would be our position on any metaphysical question. 'Logically indefensible' would mean capable of being reduced to absurdity in the Aristotelian dialectic by a demonstration that it would give rise to a self-contradiction. Synonyms would be 'unreasonable' and 'logically absurd'. In ordinary conversation just 'absurd'.
Comments: Kant states equivalently, with no proviso, 'All selective conclusions about the world as a whole are undecidable'. Why is this? It could only be because P2 stands up to analysis and must be true, unfalsifiable or both. Kant considers it to be demonstrably true. It follows that metaphysical dilemmas must always take the form of the question, 'Would two plus two equal three or five'. All we can say is 'no' and this solves the problem. Francis Bradley states, 'Metaphysics does not endorse a positive result' and feels no need to equivocate. As an Absolute Idealist this would be his solution and explanation for philosophy and not in any sense a problem. If he is correct then as formulated by the philosophy department metaphysical problems are intractable and will remain so forever. The only approach it never adopts is that of taking the Buddha and Lao Tsu seriously, and so it condemns itself for all eternity to the Sisyphusian task of trying to decide whether 3 or 5 is the best solution for 2+2. After two millennia of trying it ought to be obvious that it is not. There would be another option to this category-error.
P2 was logically proved by the Buddhist monk Noble Nagarjuna in the second century CE for his exegesis of the Buddha's cosmological scheme, placing Buddhist metaphysics on an explicable and unshakeable logical foundation. It is proved less formally by Bradley in his 1897 essay Appearance and Reality.
With P2 we have identified the problem of metaphysics and can now solve it.
Proposition 3: A neutral metaphysical position is logically defensible.
Definitions: A 'neutral' metaphysical position would be a rejection of all positive positions. It represents a 'Middle Way' solution for the countless undecidable questions that arise when we do not reject all such positions. The phrases 'doctrine of the mean' and 'nondualism' would be synonyms but with a wider meaning. 'Logically defensible' would mean irrefutable in the dialectic or in accordance with the 'laws of thought'. 'Reasonable' would be a synonym and 'rational' another. It would be important to note that a neutral metaphysical position is defined here as a logical phenomenon and that as such it would belong fully in metaphysics as a testable theory, for this would be the whole point of it. The terms 'Middle Way', 'nondualism' and 'mysticism' would refer to a doctrine that encompasses a great deal more than formal metaphysics and that lies largely outside the scope of a metaphysical essay.
Comments: This idea of calling the metaphysical scheme of nondualism 'neutral' may be the only novelty in this discussion. The only other philosophical use of it I have noticed is by Charles Peirce, and he uses it to mean something quite different. Here it indicates that wherever a metaphysical theory or conjecture has a contradictory and complementary counter-theory we would reject both for a neutral position. It would be a global application of compatibilism, a reconciliation of opposites and an un-breaking of symmetries. We would follow Lao Tsu, for whom the universe cannot be described as this or that in any respect.
A neutral position has an explanatory reach that extends beyond properties and attributes, divisions and distinctions, describing a world that would extend not just beyond our physical senses but beyond the reach of our intellect. Kant, exploring this idea in respect of psychology, concludes that that basis for our intellect must be a phenomenon that is 'not an instance of a category', thus a unity free of division and distinction. Plotinus calls this a 'Simplex'. Charles Peirce calls it the 'First'. Kant proposes that this phenomena would be the 'proper subject for a rational psychology'. Mysticism claims that it would be the proper subject for a rational psychology, ontology, epistemology and theoretical physics.
P3 is perhaps the most complex on the list because establishing its truth would require a study of Aristotle's logic, about which there is much confusion in philosophy. There is insufficient space here to discuss this. The crucial point for now would be that a neutral metaphysical position would state there is no such thing as a true contradiction and no formal contradictions would arise for a true description of the world. They would certainly seem to arise, and this would be why metaphysics must look beyond appearances in order to see past them.
Metaphysics is the attempt to construct a systematic fundamental theory, and anyone who examines the foundations of mathematics, psychology, physics, consciousness or indeed anything at all will sooner or later end up facing the same set of metaphysical problems. In the professional academic world, where the solution we are exploring here would normally be off-limits, there is as yet no fundamental theory of anything at all. There never can be one unless it is the one presented here since problems of self-reference will prevent the success of any competing theory. It would be these ancient and perennial problems of self-reference that a neutral metaphysical position uniquely allows us to overcome.
A systematic theory requires an initial axiom on which the structure can rest and from which the truth and falsity of the theorems in the system can be derived. The axiom I would choose is Proposition 4.
Proposition 4: The Universe is a Unity.
Definitions: We run into a problem here. It would not be possible to define the term 'unity' in a positive way since any such definition would have to be a denial of unity. Any such definition would have to identify attributes and properties that this unity either has or does not have in order to speak of it at all, while a unity must be defined as having all properties and no properties, a perfect balance of opposites. It would be for this reason that for Lao Tsu the Tao 'that is eternal' cannot be spoken. This would be a definition, not an appeal to ignorance. There would be two ways of conceiving or speaking of this phenomenon in respect of each potential attribute, and also globally in respect having or not-having attributes, neither of which would ever be strictly correct. A 'Necker cube' may be a rough sort of analogy, or perhaps an electron, albeit there can be no accurate analogy. This would be an implication of the Yin-Yang symbol -- the two faces of a mountain, one in light and one in shadow, neither of which is the mountain -- and this implication would extend to all attributes we might try to assign this unity such as temporality, freewill, extension, personality, existence or being. This problem emerges in western philosophy as the 'problem of attributes': a phenomenon that has attributes obviously does not have them. A unity would be a fabulously subtle phenomenon in discursive philosophy, inconceivable and unspeakable. It would not even be correct to call it an undefined term since negatively it can be defined with great precision. It would not be this as opposed to that in any case. It would be the phenomenon that Kant believed to be the proper subject for rational psychology, a phenomenon that is not and cannot be an instance of a category of thought. Here we see that while metaphysics may be simplified at a certain point its simplicity becomes its principle difficulty. We are asked to look beyond intellect and analysis to being and identity.
Comments: A unity would not be a numerical 'one' although it would in a sense be 'One'. The term advaita (not-two) as used for nondual interpretation of the Upanishads can be seen to deliberately avoid endorsing a numerical property. A unity may be defined negatively by denying it partial properties or divisions but even this approach can lead to misunderstandings. When we are told that a phenomenon is not 'A' we might assume that in this case it must be 'not-A' instead. This is how our minds work. Yet the assumption that the two horns of a metaphysical dilemma would exhaust the possibilities is a demonstrable misuse of logic leading to the stagnation of academic philosophy and to the amazing sight of otherwise reasonable and intelligent scientists arguing at length for ex nihilo creation on the grounds that if there was not originally 'Something' then.... We have nowhere else to go but chaos and confusion once we reject the unity of the universe and take up extreme positions on this kind of question. Unless we assume that the universe is a unity the problems of metaphysics cannot make sense and must remain intractable. The evidence is there in the writings of every published philosopher. If there is only one truth then there is only way to solve metaphysics.
A neutral metaphysical position, which denies the ultimate or metaphysical reality of all division, distinction and differentiation at the very final level of reduction, would depend on an axiom of unity. From this axiom we can derive the principle of nonduality, the principle on which rests the philosophical structure of Middle Way Buddhism and the entire philosophical plausibility of the phenomenon we call 'mysticism'. If the universe is not a unity then the knowledge claimed by the mystics would be demonstrably impossible. How could Lao Tsu learn of the origin of the universe from looking inside himself otherwise? If metaphysics is the study of first principles then it must surely be the study of this one. If, as philosophers, we are not able to falsify this axiom and accompanying principle then we are not able to make a serious objection to the perennial philosophy and can have little reason to suppose it is false, for this axiom encapsulates the entire doctrine by implication insofar as it pertains to formal metaphysics.
We arrived at P4 by a process of inference but we could have started with it. Such is the coherence and logical integration of a neutral metaphysical theory -- the close and ineluctable inter-connectedness of its theorems by logical implication -- that many and possibly all of its true theorems can do duty as axioms. When Heraclitus states, 'We are and are not' he unambiguously denies the truth of either of these extreme views and proposes the unity of the universe. When Lao Tsu states, 'True words seem paradoxical' he denies the ultimate truth of any positive or partial statement about the world as a whole and endorses its unity. When Nicolas de Cusa writes, 'He lies beyond the coincidence of contradictories' he is explaining the Unity of All that he has realised in his vision. When the Sufi sage Al Halaj tells us that it would not be rigorous to state 'God is One' he is endorsing a doctrine of unity for which there can be no testifier set apart from God. And so on. The authentic literature of mysticism never varies on this point. It appears that people who follow the Delphic Oracles' advice to know themselves and who persevere consistently discover the same thing, just as we all discover the same thing when we study metaphysics.
There can be no possibility of making much sense of the term 'unity' here but it can be treated as a theoretical term yet to be fleshed out. It can be defined negatively by listing all the things that it is not and so it works as a logical term for an investigation of its usefulness. Spencer Brown, whose book Laws of Form explains this nondual solution for metaphysics by way of a formal calculus, elsewhere likens this phenomenon to a blank piece of paper before the first 'mark' or conceptual distinction is made on it. This is where the world of opposites in which we live would originate, an emanation from, encompassed within, or whatever the correct description would be, a phenomenon prior to number and form. This would be, in Schrodinger's metaphor, the 'canvas on which they are painted'.
We could add to the list but just these four propositions carry us from scholastic philosophy, which would normally assume P1 and have P2 as a result, to mysticism, which depends on P3 for its external intellectual plausibility and for which P4 would be both an 'empirical' or experimental finding and logical result of analysis. These propositions therefore transcend the philosophy of our western universities and enable us to solve problems that baffle professors. Logic and experience would coincide.
A neutral metaphysical position can be defined so closely, like the state of a pencil balanced on its tip, that there can be no prevarication on metaphysical problems. The danger of adopting this position, therefore, or the price, would be that one tends to becomes rather dogmatic about what is right and wrong when speaking about fundamental issues. One pulls out the principle of nonduality and this enchanted sword just chops through the problems. Nobody else will have a competing solution that works since there would not be one. Yet there would always be two ways to look at this. Neutrality means that no view would be entirely wrong, so it would usually be possible to half-agree with any opposing view as capturing something of the truth.
Hang on, I hear you say, this is all much too simple. Not long ago I would have agreed. When I can across this simple solution, at which time I knew approximately nothing about philosophy and truly nothing whatsoever about mysticism, and thus thought I had invented my idea, I was immediately amazed that it had not yet become the orthodox solution for many problems in academia over time and that it is, rather, derided for being nonsense. It seemed so obviously correct. Hence the reality-check of the dissertation. Surely there had to be a mistake in there somewhere. A decade and a half later and I am still amazed. Kant calls Scepticism the 'scandal of philosophy' but it is surely the symptom of a much wider scandal. The problem seems to be simply a lack of interest. It appears that professional philosophy has given up on metaphysics and thus on the whole of philosophy.
Over the years I have come to believe that the average professional philosopher cares little for the study of philosophy. He or she will study the philosophy of this or that, trying to build the roof before the foundations. A million books have been published yet it is rare to meet a paid-up member of the profession who has properly examined the claims made by the perennial philosophy. How is this possible? It cannot be because it is somehow not part of philosophy. It is called 'philosophy' because it gives an explanation of philosophy. It cannot be because this philosophy has been tested as a formal metaphysical theory and found wanting. It is called 'perennial' because it cannot be improved upon or falsified. It is, after all, supposed to be true. It may be explained in ever renewed ways, as here, and must be, and as an explanatory theory it must be extended in all sorts of directions by examining its ramifications beyond metaphysics, but the metaphysical underpinning never changes. Surely it is about time that the academic community explained to the rest of us what exactly is wrong with this description of the world. A summary such as this ought to provide a clear enough target for a refutation.
(c) Peter Jones 2016