What Do "I" Know? (Part B)

Any topics primarily focused on metaphysics can be discussed here, in a generally casual way, where conversations may take unexpected turns.

Moderator: Soul_of_Shu

User avatar
AshvinP
Posts: 2615
Joined: Thu Jan 14, 2021 5:00 am
Location: USA

What Do "I" Know? (Part B)

Post by AshvinP »

Image



“I began to understand that the goal of psychic development is the Self. There is no linear evolution; there is only a circumambulation of the Self."
- Carl Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections (1962)


We began speaking of the essential "I" ("Self") in Part A and how it is not a 'thing' which is comprised of all experiences, traits, qualities, etc. It does not have any spatiotemporal 'boundaries' and we cannot perceive it directly. The Self should be understood as an ever-evolving, patterned process. Only after the Self is reified into a 'thing' can the modern skeptics dismiss the Self as having no substantial reality. We used the examples of Annakka Harris and Carlo Rovelli as current skeptics who outright deny the Self's existence, and therefore its importance, in Part A. They are correct to the extent that there is no Self as a 'thing' who experiences other 'things'. Philosophers of the East and West have recognized the non-existence of any such 'thingy' Self for millennia now (which is how we get "no-thingness" as an essential aspect of the Cosmos). But, leaving our understanding of the Self frozen there is entirely counter-productive to any serious knowing endeavor. What then is this essential Self we keep speaking of? How can we say it does, in fact, exist and is essential? As mentioned, it cannot be directly perceived and therefore it cannot be captured by words or images. The Self transcends spatial and temporal dimensions - it is not at all meaningful to speak in terms of where it is 'located', when it came into existence, or when it will go out of existence.

Rather, we can only speak of relations between the Self and our own psychic development. As Carl Jung observed, if we are limited to words and images as we are now, we can only circumabulate the Self with these symbols (metaphors, analogies, etc.) which help us view its essential functioning from various spatiotemporal angles in our own immanent experience of the world. The depth of Jung's quote above is impossible to overstate, yet it is the sort of depth which can only take form as we ourselves begin circumambulating the Self. Why is this so? It is because the evolving, patterend Self is not other than our own formless Thinking activity; an activity which is not personal to us, but is shared by all. Every living be-ing participates in the Self. Our Thinking, then, is how the Self comes to know Itself through this shared activity. One very helpful symbol for the Self, especially for the modern scientific mind, is the 'strange attractor' of "Chaos Theory". I will provide a brief description below, but, for our overall purposes here, the key point to remember is that the Self who knows is like the 'stable rhythm' of experience to which the dynamics of complex systems always return. All such dynamics eventually end up pointing right back to the underlying Self, no matter how complicated and convoluted they become.


Ordinarily the [pendulum] swings parallel to the driving momentum of the motor. However, if the frequency of the motor shaft’s oscillations is close to the pendulum’s natural period, the ball also develops a perpendicular motion. The interaction of this motion with the driving force causes the pendulum to become extremely sensitive to small variations in the starting conditions. In fact, a pendulum oscillating in this fashion has such sensitive dependence on initial conditions that it is impossible to measure the starting point accurately enough to ensure that the pendulum will swing the same way twice...

An attractor is simply any point within an orbit that seems to attract the system to it. A swinging pendulum, for example, eventually comes to rest at the mid-point of its period unless it is driven by a motor. Because this point is always the same, the pendulum is said to have a fixed-point attractor. Other oscillators have attractors that are cycles, such as the double rhythm of the human heart. When the heart is disturbed (provided the disruption is not too massive), it returns to this characteristic rhythm even if it begins from a different place.

If chaos is everywhere, even in the deceptive simplicity of a pendulum, why was it not noticed before? Scientific journals are full of articles attributing departures from expected orderliness to errors, faulty experiments, or erratic equipment. Researchers interested in chaos theory are returning to these “noisy” data and testing them for the characteristic patterns they have learned to recognize; in a significant number of cases, the patterns are there. It seems clear that they were not noticed before because no paradigm existed through which they could be understood.

- N. Katherine Hayles, Chaos Bound: Orderly Disorder in Contemporary Literature and Science (2018)

The author above is speaking of our essential Thinking activity as the 'strange attractor' in Chaos Theory, although it's doubtful she realized it. Let's briefly consider what it means to develop a new paradigm through which already-existing processes can be properly noticed and understood. It was never noticed that the "departures from expected orderliness" in the pendulum swings were themselves reflecting a deeper underlying process before because those departures were never differentiated from the ordinary course of human errors in scientifc experiments. Consider this analogy - if the temperature of the Universe was completely uniform everywhere, we would never have any sense of warmth. We first need to have experienced at least a few different degrees of warmth in order to realize there is an underlying principle of "temperature" which can explain the manifestations of warmth (or lack of warmth, i.e. coldness) in our experience. The same could be said of light and darkness and all other experiences of that kind. In the exact same way, if our normal thinking never consciously senses the structure of its own deviations from "expected orderliness", so as to differentiate those deviations from normal thinking, then it never occurs to us that there could be a higher principle of Thinking which underlies our normal thinking. This 'higher principle' is one and the same as the Self.

By the end of this essay, I hope to build some confidence in readers that there is no difference between Thinking about the phenomenal world, i.e. knowing ever-more about the scientific principles underlying phenomenal relations, and coming to know this most essential Self. It is no doubt a lofty goal, since the Self is none other than what many spiritual traditions have referred to as the highest "God"; "the Father". Here is where we can really test our Self-discpline and put into practice what was advised in Part A. A genuine knowing endeavor cannot first make any assumptions about the meaning of these symbols. I am mentioning the symbols now and in this manner because I have sensed that it will be a helpful overarching ideal for the Knowing of 'knowing' that we are pursuing. Readers should not associate the essential "I", the "Self", "God", or "the Father" with any meanings inherited from religious tradition. The reality is that we all have these traditions embedded within us in one form of another, so they will inevitably surface in our thoughts throughout our entire knowing lives. If we cannot assert enough will-power to suppress their coloring of those thoughts right now, then we will never make much progress in the task of true knowing later on.

With that said, we add just a little bit more context. Relationally, our adult Thinking can claim that our infant thinking did not yet embody the Self. As dicsussed briefly in Part A, our own cognitive development mirrors that of humanity at large. So, the Thinking of current humanity can also claim that the thinking of ancient humanity (prior to the major personalities we mentioned in Part A) did not embody the Self. Therefore, it is precisely in this recently Self-imbued thinking activity ("Thinking") where we should begin searching for the true depth of the Self, just as we start with the outer layers when we peel an onion. It bears repeating that our essential Thinking is a formless activity - it is not an object which we can directly perceive or think about. This fact is easily verified in our experience. We can directly observe our past thinking, and we can then directly observe our 'newly'-past thinking of our past thinking, and we can continue this self-reflective process of thinking about past thinking ad infinitum. However, throughout this entire process of self-reflective thinking, we will never observe our current thinking. No matter how far we chase it down the rabbit hole of our cognition, that current thinking process will always elude us.

The reason for that elusive nature of current Thinking is precisely because it is our own immanent activity. If we were to stand in between two mirrors and perceive our own physical eye, we would always only be looking at the endless reflections of the eye in the mirrors rather than the-eye-itself. The same logic applies to our spiritual "I", i.e. the Self, a.k.a. our essential Thinking activity (remembering neither the physical nor the spiritual "eye-I" is a 'thing', but rather an ever-evolving, patterned process). This self-evident truth is one of the most difficult for us to understand in the modern age, because it in this age when what we could not be directly perceive came to be ignored by our thoughts completely. What was out of sight truly became out of mind. As we observed in the example of Chaos Theory, when such things are ignored, i.e. they are not differentiated, we will never think to look for them because we are not at all expecting them to exist. Our current Thinking will never stop to reflect on its own activity which acts as the 'strange attractor' of our entire experience. Therefore, let us further build our confidence in this principle by exploring how it works in our concrete experience:

The reason why we generally overlook thinking in our consideration of things has already been given. It lies in the fact that our attention is concentrated only on the object we are thinking about, but not at the same time on the thinking itself... The observation of a table, or a tree, occurs in me as soon as these objects appear upon the horizon of my experience. Yet I do not, at the same time, observe my thinking about these things. I observe the table, and I carry out the thinking about the table, but I do not at the same moment observe this. I must first take up a standpoint outside my own activity if, in addition to observing the table, I want also to observe my thinking about the table.

This is apparent even from the way in which we express our thoughts about an object, as distinct from our feelings or acts of will. When I see an object and recognize it as a table, I do not as a rule say, “I am thinking of a table,” but, “this is a table.” On the other hand, I do say, “I am pleased with the table.” This is just the peculiar nature of thinking, that the thinker forgets his thinking while actually engaged in it. What occupies his attention is not his thinking, but the object of his thinking, which he is observing...

The reason why we do not observe the thinking that goes on in our ordinary life is none other than this, that it is due to our own activity... I am, moreover, in the same position when I enter into the exceptional state and reflect on my own thinking. I can never observe my present thinking; I can only subsequently take my experiences of my thinking process as the object of fresh thinking. If I wanted to watch my present thinking, I should have to split myself into two persons, one to think, the other to observe this thinking. But this I cannot do. There are two things which are incompatible with one another: productive activity and the simultaneous contemplation of it.

- Rudolf Steiner, The Philosophy of Freedom (1895)

Yet Steiner then goes on to write, "The reason why it is impossible to observe thinking in the actual moment of its occurrence, is the very one which makes it possible for us to know it more immediately and more intimately than any other process in the world." At this point in the essay, readers who are following the logic and understanding it have gone further into the essence of true knowing than the foremost philosophers and scientists alive today. That is a simple fact. For readers who are skeptical of this assertion, I would ask them to survey the works of their favorite thinkers and find anything those thinkers have written about our essential Thinking activity, as it manifests in our immanent experience, which is similar to what Steiner wrote above. If we cannot find any such examples, then we should also contemplate what this ommission signifies. For those commentators on the essence of "consciousness", "thinking", "awareness", "knowledge", "reason", etc., how can they have insights to offer us about this essence without first understanding the significance of the simple verifiable fact we have discovered for ourselves above? We can let that question linger as we move on to consider what that significance is, i.e. what our essential Thinking has to do with the "laws of nature" we derive in scientific knowing.

To begin answering this question, we will consider what is undeniably immanent to our experience of phenomena and nothing else. Let's first imagine we are observing billiard balls on a pool table. First, let us admit to ourselves that the only reason we are observing these billiard balls, and the only reason we are still reading this essay, is because something deep within us desperately desires to know. To know what? We don't know that yet, but nevertheless we are still observing and waiting to see what comes of it. If, instead, we decided to stop observing the billiard balls, or then words in this essay, then we would never know what we don't yet know. We would ensure that our desire to know is never satisfied. Some will observe for just a few minutes before calling quits and others for hours at a time. It is always the first few minutes of observing which are the most difficult; it is most difficult to shift from barely observing phenomena to observing them intently. What makes the shift easier to accomplish? It is the activity of, not just observing, but also thinking of what we are observing. The prior thinking which produces satisfactory fruit for us serves as the motivation for continued thinking. Here we find another quality of thinking that no other process shares by itself, which we can call its "self-satisfying" or "self-motivating" quality.

When we instinctively desire, feel, and act, and those activties produce fruit, it is still only our reflective thinking which brings those fruits to our awareness and thereby motivates more fruitful activity. Nature's yearning for satisfaction only finds it through our thinking activity. Returning to the billiard balls, let's imagine one of the balls is hit with a pool cue and begins moving. We are still only observing without any thinking reflection. To find out where the ball is going and what it may do, we must continue patiently observing. If we get distracted and avert our eyes for only a few moments, we may miss the entire process of the ball hitting another ball which then falls into a pocket outside of our perceptual field. We have then completely wasted the initial observations and must start over from the beginning. This entire dynamic is transfigured when our thinking reflection enters onto the scene. Now concepts about "motion", "speed", "time", "velocity", "momentum", "elasticity", and other similar ones (collectively, the "concepts") are added to the phenomena we are observing (the "percepts"). Even if I were to stop observing the percepts shortly after the initial strike of the ball, I could still determine where the ball went, what other ball it hit, and what pocket the other ball went into, assuming I am applying the concepts properly.



Image




The image above is only being used here as an illustration one point and should not be taken to mean anything beyond what is now written. The point is that our thinking activity, as we observe the percepts of the billiard balls and apply the concepts to them, is way out on the periphery of the Self (whatever it is). The core of the Self is within the Center of the sphere we are not yet observing. When studying phenomenal relations in science, we begin with percepts and concepts 'located' around the periphery of this sphere. When we engage in scientific inquiry, our current thinking perspective fixes itself in space and time out around some tiny portion of the periphery (represented by the small blue sphere), and attempts to encompass more and more of the phenomenal relations moving inwards from the purple arrow. It is only our current limited perspective which is represented by the blue sphere, not our essential be-ing or activity. This image should help us understand how much knowing work our tiny fragmented perspective has ahead of itself. Actually, the blue sphere can only free itself from the surface of the sphere and expand inwards once it 'loosens' from its fixed space-time perspective. That spatiotemporal context is itself a phenomenal relation which can become the object of our Thinking activity. We don't need to concern ourselves with that anymore for our basic purposes here.

All the concepts referenced earlier in the context of billiard balls are flat representations we extract from multi-dimensional living ideas within the 'Cosmic City'. They help us move along the two-dimensional surface of the Sphere, expanding in certain directions on that surface. How does this actually occur in our concrete experience of observing and thinking? Returning to the pool table - when I attend to a moving billiard ball with observation-thinking, I call up the concept of "effect". This concept of "effect", in turn, calls up another concept of "cause", which then directs my attention to others percepts-concepts which may explain why the billiard ball was set in motion. It is very important to recognize how one concept always calls up another in this process. The percepts by themselves never call up any concepts which provide the impulse for further thinking. When I connect the percepts of the pool cue and the billiard ball to concepts of "struck" and "motion", those concepts then call up the concept of "effect" again and I again search for its "cause". We have now called up a concept of this "self-propelling" quality of thinking. Without this quality of thinking, we would never set our thinking in further motion to find "causes" for "effects" and link them together into "cause-effect" relations.

What I am describing above should also call up the concept of "basic". Thinking about our thinking in this manner is not a terribly complex matter. Actually, we should expect it to be the exact opposite. A sure sign that a thinker has not actually thought about their own thinking and factored it into their analysis of conscious experience is when they develop extremely complex labrynths of barely intelligible, remotely abstract concepts to explain the most simple perceptual phenomena. Since the most critical element of the phenomena is not factored in (thinking), they have no other choice. That is a sign of thinking which is digging itself further into its tiny spot on the fragmented periphery of the Sphere; burrowing deeper into the dark ground below rather than striving up towards the light of the Sun above. Thinking with logical depth makes our 'lower layers' of thinking easier to understand. It allows us to fluidly connect concepts, not only 'horizontally' as we do with "effect" and "cause", but also 'vertically' as we do with "Thinking" and "cause-effect relation". The former always precedes the latter - Thinking imbues the "cause-effect relation" with its meaning. In fact, all relations which have been held as "essential" by the foremost philosophers of the world have only been imbued with their meaning in this same manner. Let's call this Thinking's quality of "self-evidencing".

Steiner wrote:Philosophers have started from various primary antitheses: idea and reality, subject and object, appearance and thing-in-itself, “I” and “Not-I”, idea and will, concept and matter, force and substance, the conscious and the unconscious. It is easy to show, however, that all these antitheses must be preceded by that of observation and thinking, this being for man the most important one. Whatever principle we choose to lay down, we must either prove that somewhere we have observed it, or we must enunciate it in the form of a clear thought which can be re-thought by any other thinker. Every philosopher who sets out to discuss his fundamental principles must express them in conceptual form and thus use thinking. He therefore indirectly admits that his activity presupposes thinking.

What holds true for philosophers is no less true for scientists, as we have seen through our simple illustration of the billiard balls on the pool table. It is always our thinking activity which derives the unifying principles of experience; the principles which literally allow us to make sense of the phenomena we encounter. However, there is an aspect of scientific knowing which clearly goes beyond the encounter of observing minds with phenoma in the sense-world. Some people today could tell us what will happen between the billiard balls on the pool table without ever observing any of the sense-objects at issue. They can simulate all possible scenarios of interactions between the pool stick, the balls, the table, the pockets, etc. in pure mathematical form. Our thinking activity is now really set in motion, as what was first encountered as a mixture of sense-percepts and relevant concepts is again transfigured into a realm of pure concepts without any sense-percepts to speak of. A single personality can dwell with these pure mathematical concepts and figure out scenarios which would never be observed on the actual pool table, even if the the balls were struck millions of times. Again, if we just follow the logic of what will described below carefully, the underlying nature of this mathematical thinking, which is the cornerstone of all modern science, will be self-evident.

It is undeniable that 'mathematical objects' are pure concepts without percepts, i.e. they are not pictures of 'things' previously sensed in the world. There is no directly corresponding sense-impression for the concepts of the integer "one", an "angle", the form "triangle", or the form "sphere". We only perceive "one" object in the context of an environment with many others, an angle of a surface with other angles and colors, a spherical object with colors and textures, etc. The mathematical concepts themselves are our own creations - that fact is what is undeniably given in our experience without any added assumptions about what those creations are, in essence, or where they 'come from'. In Part A, we wondered, have we ever actually performed the scientific experiments or analyzed the mathematical results which undergird our most 'prized' scientific conclusions? The reason why, even if we never have, we can still have some level of confidence in those conclusions should begin to dawn on us now. It is because most scientists who derived such conclusions by running experiments and analyzing the results have never gone out into the world and patiently observed the phenomenal relations unfolding.

Instead, many of them have worked within a purely ideal world of mathematical concepts to systematize the relations in a useful (predictive) manner. Let's recall the 'strange attractor' of Chaos Theory which was never noticed before, even though it was always present in the observations of unexpected pendulum swings. Is it also possible that what we call "mathematical thinking", i.e. inquiry conducted in a purely ideal manner, has always been present in our observation of sense-perceptions as well? We will return to that question later. For now, we should remember that the "scientific conclusions" we are referencing above only hold true if they are reasoned through properly by the scientists or by our own thinking when it evaluates their claims. As we mentioned in Part A, "properly" is practically synonymous with "completely" in the modern age. As certain as it is that this mathematical thinking activity adds a dimension to the sort of thinking which occurs when we go out into the world and patiently observe phenomena, it is equally certain to take away a dimension from the phenomenal relations - the qualitative dimension. All colors, sounds, smells, tastes, and textures of the phenomena at issue do not persist in the pure mathematical concepts. At least half of all perceptual content (the qualitative content) is literally removed from the equations.

So what happens when a scientist forgets that this transfiguring process we described above even occurred (or never figured out that is what actaully occurs in his mathematical thinking)? The scientist then carries on with this anlaysis without ever factoring the qualitative content back in to inform the conclusions. The latter, then, remain woefully incomplete as a matter of course. One should really stop to reflect on how many scientific conclusions, which they have the utmost confidence in, are of this woefully incomplete sort described above. The answer to that particular question does not concern us right now, because there is still yet a lot more thinking to do as we lay a more firm foundation for our future Thinking about these scientific matters. That is how mere matters of scientific thinking become the means through which we always sense what is wise, harmonious, and universal in the phenomenal relations; what is Good, Beautiful, and True in the world we experience around us. At this point, after considerable reflection on our thinking activity, I hope that readers can at least sense some measure of the living thinking which first articulated such well-known phrases such as, "knowledge is its own reward". I hope that some inwardly feel the qualities of joy and satisfaction which can only come to us from reasoning through our own thinking about the world we experience.

It is the joy which comes from realizing that our own thinking holds the keys to our own motivation, our own satisfaction, and our own affirmation in absolutely every dimension of our existence. We can call this quality of Thinking its "self-ownership". When we are Thinking in this manner, time begins to fly by. Minutes feel like seconds and hours feel like minutes. That transfiguration towards meaningful time-experience should really build our confidence that we are aligning our thinking activity with the inner rhythms of the Self. We are then no longer experiencing those rhythms as forces which oppress us; forces we must fight against to find our satisfaction in the world. Rather, we have made these ever-present rhythms of the higher Self our allies in the battle against the darkness by making them conscious. What we have been discussing above is what Jung also understood of the higher Self when he said, "until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate". Thinking about thinking, then, is to be understood as the means by which we regain control of our own destiny. Next, we will explore how we can begin integrating the rich qualities of phenomena with the precision of mathematical thinking through our essential Self.
“I began to understand that the goal of psychic development is the Self. There is no linear evolution; there is only a circumambulation of the Self."
- Jung
User avatar
Cleric K
Posts: 659
Joined: Thu Jan 14, 2021 9:40 pm

Re: What Do "I" Know? (Part B)

Post by Cleric K »

AshvinP wrote: Fri Oct 01, 2021 5:14 pm ...
Great stuff, Ashvin!

I quite enjoyed your treating of the Self and the attractor metaphor. I think we can safely bookmark this essay and simply link to it next time something about the self or formlessness comes up.

The part about science urges me to get to work and finish the Schrodinger essay (but I keep distracting myself with essay-length comments :D ). I think it will complement in many ways the topic on how thinking operates in the scientific domain.
User avatar
AshvinP
Posts: 2615
Joined: Thu Jan 14, 2021 5:00 am
Location: USA

Re: What Do "I" Know? (Part B)

Post by AshvinP »

Cleric K wrote: Sat Oct 02, 2021 3:27 pm
AshvinP wrote: Fri Oct 01, 2021 5:14 pm ...
Great stuff, Ashvin!

I quite enjoyed your treating of the Self and the attractor metaphor. I think we can safely bookmark this essay and simply link to it next time something about the self or formlessness comes up.

The part about science urges me to get to work and finish the Schrodinger essay (but I keep distracting myself with essay-length comments :D ). I think it will complement in many ways the topic on how thinking operates in the scientific domain.

Thank you!

It helped to have your posts to reference on strange attractor and differentiation (warmth analogy). I do feel a lot more could have been fleshed out with thinking in science, but I really wanted to keep these as brief as possible. Part C will have some more, and I am sure your Schrodinger essay will have plenty of fleshing out to go around : )
“I began to understand that the goal of psychic development is the Self. There is no linear evolution; there is only a circumambulation of the Self."
- Jung
Post Reply