Friday, 16 March 2018

Not knowing

The single thing that drives me to distraction is not knowing. I don't know what it is I don't know. I can't even imagine it.
 (Life or death)
I happen to believe that it is possible to give an account of ultimate reality without invoking the appearance-reality distinction. If you want to know how, well that’s something I’m currently working on...
(Ask a Philosopher: Questioning the appearance/ reality distinction)
     It's time to play my cards.
     Ultimate reality resides in the here-and-now. — There, I've said it.
     In some sense, that is something I have always believed, right back to The Metaphysics of Meaning. For the longest time, I thought the only way to describe this was as a 'triadic movement'. A 'dialectic of illusion'. You start with the here-and-now. Then you fall into 'metaphysical illusion' (the 'illusion of detachment'). Then, heroically rescuing yourself from metaphysical illusion, you return to the here-and-now, but this time with a philosophical 'understanding' you didn't have before. — Exhausted but happy.
     As I remarked in Life or death, 'It isn't enough.'
     Then, what?
     Yes, metaphysical illusions (plural) are part of it. I'm sure there are more than the two illusions I chose to look at (the ego and truth illusions). However many illusions or wrong steps you add to your inventory, the 'negative way' (via negativa) can only get you so far. You have to turn around, look, find the positive.
     It will take discipline. You keep hankering after impossible 'knowledge'. Imagining that you can sneak a peek and catch it unawares. But there's nothing to catch.
     There lies the ultimate illusion.
     We don't 'not know' the ultimate theory of everything (in the physical sense) because the regress of 'wheels within wheels within wheels...' is never-ending. Or else at some point you come to a screeching halt. (Superstrings, or whatever.)
     We don't 'not know' the ultimate purpose or meaning of life because every attempt to describe the ultimate meaning ends up as some variety of 'family story' (Nous, Great Architect, Loving Father, etc.) And then, 'Is that all there is?!'
     Science is great, we should keep on doing it. Let's pool our resources, build a super-large hadron collider the size of Switzerland if that's what it takes.
     As for religion, 'believe what you like, it makes no difference'. But if you come up and tell me that I must do so-and-so because the Great Thingamajig commands it, I will laugh in your face.
     I do believe that I know lots of things. I'm no sceptic. Knowledge is possible. There can never be a reason for not pursuing knowledge. But as for the unknown unknowns, there's nothing to 'say' or 'believe' or 'pursue'. Just a surd. And I have the free choice: to keep harping on about it, or not.
     That's the discipline.
     Kant talks about mapping the limits of human knowledge to 'make room for faith'. As if faith only belongs on the other side!
     Faith is the biggest thing in my life. The only thing in my life. It is faith that keeps me going, keeps me doing this, pouring endless words onto the internet regardless of whether or not I receive any response (a rare enough occurrence). Not faith in a 'Great Thingamajig', not even faith in myself. (I know my own limitations only too well, I may be more than a few brain cells short of what's required, but so what? what are you going to do about it?)
     What is faith, or what do I mean by it? — Here's a simple example. I have a computer, an old Windows machine recently upgraded with a moderately faster processor, whose sole task is grinding out calculations for CERN and the SETI project. I am helping in my small way with enterprises I 'believe' in. The difference made by one extra Pentium 4 chip is vanishingly small. But I deem it 'worth while'.
     Just as I deem this. Even if my short life will make no difference whatsoever to the history of the human race. The problems grip me, and I am doing something about it. Call it 'satisfying my curiosity'. That'll do. That's all there is, all that matters.
     Ultimate reality is the here-and-now. And what I mean by the 'here-and-now' is the Doing. Nothing is 'given', nothing 'appears', nothing is 'real'. In the Doing there is no distinction between 'what is' and 'what seems'. There is no 'what'. There only the point of action, the 'issue of my existence', which I decide from one passing moment to the next.

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