Wednesday, August 31, 2016
Kant's distinction between noumenon and phenomenon -- the latter always already structured by categories of Time, Space and Causality, the noumenal forever unknown.
Husserl and phenomenology -- "things-in-themselves" are bracketed. Only this world is explored as it appears to our senses. Merleau-Ponty places emphasis on embodied experience.
The next step is presaged in Nietzsche's observation that with the end of the "real" world the "apparent" world also vanishes. The two become merged into a third term beyond both subject and object.
Derrida's deconstruction is a technique to make obvious this actuality. Deleuze goes beyond -- taking as a given that all is a becoming, he sets out to describe these always interconnected fluxes.
This does not bring us back to Berkeley's idealism, where all matter is merely individual perception, but to a place where all perception and matter is indissolubly coupled. When we move further away from a rock and we perceive it to grow smaller, does it actually decrease in size? Doesn't a "rock-in-itself" remain, independent of our perceptions and ideas of it?
These are the wrong questions. There never is a "rock-in-itself." Even if no sentient being ever came across this particular rock, it would never have an existence outside of the smaller particles that make up its being, or the larger whole that it is a part of, or the elements and forces that act upon it. At no point is it independent and unchanging. Our perception of the rock is simply another "force" acting upon it. It changes the rock.
As Deleuze points out even physical forces have "perceptions." They "see" the rock and react to it in their own singular way. Never does the rock exist, then, outside of it being perceived by another. This is just a further aspect of its flux. And so it is with every other object/subject. All are always already perceiving and being perceived, acting and being acted upon. At no point can the "in-itself" be situated.
Kant explained that we structure the phenomenal world with our minds with a priori categories, most notably Space, Time and Causality. Others since Kant have pointed out that even these categories cannot be universalized. All three seem also to be in constant alteration. It may be true that these three are always present in some fashion, but they are in no way absolute. Each is relative depending on the perceiver and what it perceives.
A more thorough phenomenology would explain that aside from the shifting aspects of these three, we human individuals are always embedded in changing worlds that are determined by many other factors.
If all of our senses are functioning normally we perceive a certain range of colours, scents, sounds, tastes and tactile sensations. These spectra tend to widen and contract depending on the state of our consciousness -- what some would call brain chemistry. Under the influence of certain drugs or plants we can perceive colours, for instance, that we do not normally see.
In addition to the physical senses, though, we are always embedded in a complex web of emotions, feelings, thoughts, relations with others, bodily movement and position, memories, fantasies, dreams, etc. We never just perceive with our senses alone. It would be one thing if we were just looking at the rock in question with our imperfect sense of vision, but we almost never do this. The rock is already a player, and a shifting one, in our internal world. The very word "rock" captures it into the web of our language and the culture which it in turn is coupled with.
How does the rock make us feel? Have we seen it before? Does it remind us of other scenes from past episodes of our lives? Do we like the rock? Do we dislike it? Are we indifferent to it? Does it trigger in us other seemingly barely related memories? The rock is never separate from this nexus of association, whether this is conscious or not.
As we take in information about the world from our senses, which our minds almost miraculously project outward as living, seamless holograms, the "outside" world is really no different from the "inside." What we see is what we think, and the opposite holds true as well.
This is not to say that the mind creates the world, but that both are wholly inseparable. There is no independent "mind" that objectively looks out or creates its own world. No mind is to be found outside of the flux of the All, but the "world" is never free of the qualities of the "mind" either.
Modern Buddhism seems to neglect this point. Thich Nhat Hanh famously wrote that in this sheet of paper we can really see the tree from which the paper is made, the sunshine that allowed the tree to grow, the logger that cut it down, the bread that the logger ate, etc. All of this is certainly true. This image wonderfully presents the interconnection of the natural and human worlds. It presents an ecological, naturalistic model of Buddhism.
This is fine and good but it leaves out the human mind. This page also has writing on it. This writing causes us to imagine trees, sunshine, loggers and bread, and with all of these we already have mental associations, memories about, emotional ties with. The physical page itself might also remind us of similar pages, past experiences of reading, reflections on the shapes of the letters, the number of the page, the smell of the book. Thinking of trees and sunshine, for example, may make you put down the book and go out for a walk. All of these are also in the sheet of paper.
The ecological model, then, is far too simplistic. It allows for one example of Indra's net in our world, but it leaves out another very important dimension -- the human mind. Buddhist meditation, in the present reading, is not about "stopping our thoughts" -- this is not possible as the processes of thinking, perceiving and living are entirely combined. Instead, meditation is the action of becoming aware of this single process.
Modern Buddhism, by promoting this ecological vision of itself as a sort of "scientific" spiritualism, falls trap to the deceptive reductionism of science. Science is not a phenomenology, it is an attempt to grasp the "in-itself." It tries to strip away all of the secondary and tertiary aspects of objects, everything that we individually sense and feel about them at particular points of space and time, and to discover what is really there.
And of course science does find something. There are things that exist nearly universally and repetitively and regardless of subjective observation, and these things can and are used and applied as technology, but they are no more real or important than a daydream a child might imagine and quickly forgets one sunny afternoon. In other words, they take us no closer to Truth or even what it means to be human to the fullest extent.
The scientific method reduces the world according to its own parameters, its advocates dogmatically declaring that it brings us as close to Reality as we can possibly get. Science demands that all other takes on reality -- say a child's daydream -- be judged according to its own standards and those that do not measure up are quickly dismissed.
But the reductions of science are not the reductions, for example, of mystical experience. The two cannot be compared, but again science insists that all other reality claims be weighed by its own understanding of evidence. This is a type of epistemological fascism.
Modern Buddhism attempts to conform to the dictates of science by passing itself off as ecological. Yes, Buddhism does show that all organisms and their environments are inextricably intertwined, but it also demonstrates much more than this, whole dimensions more.
It reveals that mind runs through everything, that the land and its inhabitants, human and otherwise, are constantly awash in memories, emotions, dreams, relations, ideas and fantasies. None of these can be separated out from the physical stuff as described by science. The land dreams as all aboriginal people know. This should once more be the focus of Buddhism, not some vain hope to become a "scientific religion."
At the moment, though, modern Buddhism, especially in its Western variety, does not generally do this. And accordingly it cuts itself off from how people actually live their day-to-day lives. We are embodied, thinking, feeling, dreaming. Buddhism is not a religion of would-be Mr. Spocks, ceasing all desire and witnessing the passing of life with detached logic and rationality. And if it was this I would completely reject it.
Buddhism is, for me at least, the affirmation of the whole of experience. It is the conclusion that we suffer when we do try to parcel up existence into artificial, reductive boxes and categories. It is the saying YES to flux and change within everything, even our impressions of ourselves.
We can better see this view, perhaps, in literature. Joyce's Ulysses is the prime example. He we intimately witness the whole lives of two men -- their experiences, thoughts, emotions, aspirations, farts, pissings, etc. -- in just one day, and we are inside of this process happening in real time. The book presents a mirror of how exactly we all perceive and live in our worlds which unfold along with us.
In Ulysses the everyday is the mythic, just as the mythic is the everyday. This is only another formula for nirvana is samsara, or the noumenal is the phenomenal. This is the animal that requires observation, the monster that looks at itself in the process of looking at itself. This is also Deleuze's world which he explores and describes throughout his work.
Joseph Campbell compares the insanely interconnected dreamworld of Finnegans Wake, which Ulysses leads into, with both Indra's net and Schopenhauer's own comparison of lives as dreams. Schopenhauer wrote how dreams are remarkable because by the end of any dream seemingly chance events and characters are so skillfully woven into the fabric of the dream that they have become essential. Upon waking and remembering a long dream it appears almost impossible that one could have imagined something so creatively coherent.
What is even more amazing, Schopenhauer reflected, is the similarity of this aspect of dreams to our own lives. At an advanced age we realize that all "chance" meetings and events have all played their parts perfectly to seamlessly pattern the story of our lives. Not one detail could have been changed and, just as in our dreams, it appears as if a master story teller had plotted it all out ahead of time.
It gets even weirder than this, however. Not only does my life story play out in this uncanny way, but so does the life story of every other person. This means that as you played roles in the lives of others so they performed for a time in your story. And all of these fit together perfectly. The interconnected complexity of this coherence is mind-blowing. It almost seems impossible to fathom and yet it happens to all of us each day.
This is definitely where Joyce takes us and it is also a very vivid example of Indra's net in concrete terms. Schopenhauer's view of things, however, is not exactly comparable to Indra's net. For the philosopher, just as we compose and construct our dreams, whether consciously or not, we also compose and construct our lives and an even greater author, God himself, is able
to bring all of these billions of narratives perfectly together within the grand story of creation.
Within Indra's net, though, and maybe in the work of Joyce as well, no author is required at any stage or level. Or, to put it in a better way, the author is always already a part of the text. The words themselves write the author into the story.
The stuff of dreams, the stuff of autobiography, the stuff of the story -- all stories and the authors of these stories -- are but one Stuff, one stuff that is not defined or limited by oneness. It is stuff that also goes beyond the one and the many.
But how does it move? What are its dynamics? It dances in cycles, in spirals. It has a beat. It is possible to flow with it or against it. It oscillates from one extreme to another. Seasons, waves, sunsets, births, deaths, sleeping, waking -- wheels within wheels. And thought, even collectively, also has a cycle.
Our imaginations soar creating a vast civilization, now global in reach, a master over the whole world. The magnificent edifice is unrivaled in its power and splendour, every aspect of life is determined and improved upon. We have truly uncovered the formula for prying out Nature's secrets. Now we are supreme. Our knowledge has given us near omnipotence. We are at the peak of our strength.
But to arrive at these giddy heights what have we trampled under our feet? What have we suppressed? What do we keep having to hack back, flush down, fight off? Our aim is a world entirely of our own making but we, the control freaks, dupe ourselves into thinking that we ever really have control.
Things are only kept down for so long before they come up again, and when they do so it is not a pretty sight. All the toilets are overflowing. All of the trauma and injustice of history is coming to the fore. History is a nightmare, a spell, which is perpetuated by those who would stand to lose most at the final judgement, but this day is inevitable. We used to be aware that the extreme of anything will invariably transform itself into its opposite. We used to hold stock in ideas such as hubris and moderation, but now this wisdom is also scorned within the general pattern of suppression.
And yet the scum always rises. Every dog has its day and the long day is ending. The wild is returning. This is the simplest and most apt way to put it. History is essentially the tale of civilization's suppression of the wild in all of its forms -- unrestricted imagination, non-hierarchical organization, free spirituality, the feminine, the animal, the embodied, the dirt, the tribal, the primal, the uninhibited and free spirit of Enkidu. All this has been lost, been shut off from our reality, is only accepted as romantic nostalgia or flavorless imitation. Now it is coming back.
It is not returning as something fresh and clean and new. It is arriving in shock and pain after a hard labour in a grave of decay. The Spring will undoubtedly come, but first we tromp through the crusted dogshit of the Winter thaw. All will be shaken.