Friday, May 25, 2012

Needleman's Truth

The concept of another reality, that exists and yet that we are unaware of except for hints and hunches, is one that resounds throughout this blog. I must elaborate that I do not support the concept of dualism. Rather, we create the dualism when we ignore the 'other reality,' thereby forcing us to call it just that. The goal (at least as I understand it now) is to unify the two realities.  Sometimes i just forget to think about those other things, making them the other. In fact a lot of the time. But so this non-other....Needleman summarizes its presence through human time quite nicely in his text The Heart of Philosophy, writing,

"Under the influence of the first stage of philosophy, man conceives of the world about him, the world revealed to his sense in space and time, as a tissue of appearances, more or less illusory. Beyond this world, inaccessible to ordinary knowledge and perception, lies another world, the real world of things in themselves; and the world we live in is at best a shadow, a reflection, of the real world. This idea, in many and varied forms, is the principal governing idea in the history of philosophy. Under one guise or another, its expression and development stretches from the teachings of Pythagoras through Socrates and Plato, Aristotle, the medieval epoch, the Renaissance, and the modern era" (146).

"The idea of a real self behind the appearances forms the central doctrine of every great teaching and tradition throughout the ages. It is always intimately related to the idea of a higher or absolute reality behind the appearances in the whole of nature. In Buddhism the Buddha-nature, enlightened Mind, is the true reality of myself and the universe. In Hinduism, Atman, the real human Self, is Brahman, the Absolute God-Creator-Destroyer-Preserver. In Judaism, the name of God is I AM, and Christianity reconstitutes this idea through the teaching about the Holy Spirit which is the ultimate Self (the "personal God," the Father) acting and suffering within all men...Pythagoras spoke of a central sun of the whole cosmos that was also within each man. Plato writes of the highest Being as like the sun within and outside of man, where reality and the Good are one and are the ultimate active, causal power - the soul in man, the power of which is to harmonize all the functions and appearances within individual human nature. In short, the idea
moves like a great river through the history of our culture, fed by currents that originate in many and various minds and teachings. When modern science and the scientific approach to knowledge took root in our world, there seemed to be no place for this great and universal idea of the one Self behind the world of appearances. From the point of view of the scientific attitude, it was an unverifiable idea, something that could not be seen, a mere object of belief...We who now see the limitations of these early philosophers of science - because we have been provided with knowledge about ancient teachings that they could not have had - would be foolish not to recognize the courage and love of truth which they exhibited in refusing to believe anything they could not verify for themselves. Contemporary man's passive, mechanical acceptance of sensory experience as the sole standard of truth must not be confused with the active, searching inquiry of these early empirical philosophers" (166-167).

He then goes on to summarize Kant and his Critique of Pure Reason:

"[Y]ou will find in Critique of Pure Reason indications that the whole of our common human life and the whole of nature itself is penetrated by some unknown reality, access to which requires of man far more than the exercise of thought and ordinary reason, no matter how brilliant or ingenious it may be and, of course, far more than even the intensest emotion" (170).
"Speaking then in the only language available to him, Kant presents the idea of man's two natures in the following way: The inner reality of human beings such as ourselves consists solely in the impulse to will the good - an intention that is inexplicable in scientific terms and that is utterly unrelated to the motivations and causalities of the ego or phenomenal self. All our appetites, inclinations, and motives are opposed to this incomprehensible intention toward the Higher. Kant calls this intention the sense of duty. This sense of duty, this inexplicable intention emanating out of the higher part of human nature, is the sole and only free movement within man, the only aspect of our nature not entangled in the natural laws of space and time to which everything else in the world and in ourselves is subject" (180).

I believe this to be true. But it is easy to see why others question it, and I often question myself. I am technically a scientist, so faith isn't really my thing. But I believe in following the cues of your surroundings and the instincts of your body - it is a work of millions of years of fine tuning after all...Needleman addresses precisely this problem, writing that,

"The world as it presents itself to the ordinary faculty of knowing is a world of mechanically determined phenomena. The world as it presents itself to pure reason and the moral will is a world of things in themselves that can never be known. In what other aspect can we deal with the world? What other faculty is there in man? This latter question Kant now answers by saying that in addition to knowledge and the moral will there is in us a unique power of feeling, a function of the mind that brings impressions of pleasure and pain that are completely different from the pleasures and pains brought to us by the physical body or the emotions of the phenomenal self...."[W]e can feel what we can neither know nor will."* It is a feeling that is more like knowing than it is like what we ordinarily experience as emotion. It is a knowing that is more like emotion than it is like the ordinary effort of acquiring knowledge through disciplined empirical observation and theorization. It is spontaneous and free and yet, at the same time, it yields the impression of harmony both in ourselves and in the world outside us. It arises in us without strain or effort, yet it brings us toward and even into the experience of uncompromising universal order" (187).
*Edward Caird, The Critical Philosophy of Immanuel Kant, vol. II

So why am I afraid to share thoughts like these? And why are other people afraid to accept them? Is it because it is not proven by science, and maybe never will be? Is it because they are socially unacceptable for some reason? Perhaps the most poignant part of Needleman's text is when he addresses this very issue while describing the difference between adolescent and adult receptiveness to philosophical issues. He writes,

"You are a busy, successful person; you are holding together a family and a good career; you are raising children in the best way you know how; you have kept up your mind and your sensibilities with respect to the finer things of life - the arts in particular, music, painting, literature; you read, haphazardly to be sure, good books, serious things, as much as you can. You have built up a store of ideas and information, much of it based on long personal experience, and so you are not without intellectual tools which you have honed, also haphazardly, by discussion when and where the occasion has presented itself. You have logic, you have some thoughts, you have a store of material that you have gathered about life...But now something is happening to you that does not happen to Beth or to any adolescent. You have all this material you have gathered about life; she has none, or very little - and what little she may have is not yet firmly secured to her personality...She is more open to great ideas than you, far more open...But it costs her nothing. With you, parent, it is different. It costs you a great deal when an idea suddenly penetrates behind all your material, all your experience, all your knowledge, and is now no longer external to you" (139-140).

This is why so many of the traditions say that you must shed your attachments and shed your assumptions. Of course you will not be aware of the entirety of reality if you are not even open to the concept.

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