Among philosophers, there are some who extend the Kantian idea of intuition as the root of all knowledge to suggest that instead of pursuing purely analytical thought, which tends to be derived from the visible, we must pursue an ultimate reality in which the world is comprised of ideas, and the most compatible ideas shape our future.
There is no denying that the world appears to objectively exist, and for all intents and purposes, it does objectively exist, yet it is easy to see that it is nothing more than an apparition. It is similar to the way the sun appears to rise and set each day. We might directly experience the rising and setting of the sun with our own eyes, so to speak, yet the whole thing is an illusion produced by the rotating earth. It is an experience which is constructed out of our perspective as beings situated on the earth. In the same way, our experience of the world as an objective entity is a mirage generated out of a particular perspective, one that is centred around a belief in the self and reinforced by habit of thought. The objectivity of the world appears real on the surface, but it disappears the moment you begin to approach it.
This struggles with the same question that Schopenhauer introduces, which is that if life is comprised of cause and effect, the cause of materiality will be more complex than materiality itself, indicating the presence of additional dimensions to our world, or that our world is the result of long chains of causes that begin in an entirely different medium. This is German Idealism, also called “transcendental idealism”:
Kant’s idealism is, perhaps, the most moderate form of idealism associated with German idealism. Kant holds that the objects of human cognition are transcendentally ideal and empirically real. They are transcendentally ideal, because the conditions of the cognition human beings have of objects are to be found in the cognitive faculties of human beings. This does not mean the existence of those objects is mind-dependent, because Kant thinks we can only know objects to the extent that they are objects for us and, thus, as they appear to us. Idealism with respect to appearances does not entail the mind-dependence of objects, because it does not commit itself to any claims about the nature of things in themselves. Kant denies that we have any knowledge of things in themselves, because we do not have the capacity to make judgments about the nature of things in themselves based on our knowledge of things as they appear.
Schopenhauer elaborated on this by making it clear that there was no knowledge of things in themselves, but that in fact the perceiver creates the perceived object from external reality plus a perceptual filter, which shows us that the entirety of reality as we know it is relative to the individual, which is to say relative among individuals, with some perceiving more than others:
Schopenhauer holds that “no truth is more certain, no truth is more independent of all others and no truth is less in need of proof than this one: that everything there is for cognition (i.e., the whole world) is only an object in relation to a subject, an intuition of a beholder ” (WWR, §1, pp. 23–4). This simple and perhaps inescapable thought may be regarded as the most fundamental motivation for any form of epistemological idealism.
These ideas, at first, are shocking because they navigate between two human illusions: (1) the external world is evident and universal and everyone can perceive it and (2) people live in their own worlds, determined by their intent and desires. Neither are true, but both are partially true. People interpret an objective world as best they can, and end up with a version of it filtered through their own perception and, most importantly, ability to accept what they are seeing. People in denial see less of the world than others.
At a basic level, this idea suggests that the universe is relative, which means that any object is known through its relationship to other objects and not to some universal center. We know light through darkness, not through some middle level of partial light, and we know cold through hot, death through life, truth through untruth, and many other variations of this idea.
Bruce Charlton argues for a variety of this theory:
In the beginning Men were merely primordial selves immersed in the ocean of universal consciousness; and the history of everything has included the progressive and incremental separation of these selves from the universal primary reality.
We began as immersed in universal reality – joined with everything, and everything joined with us – with permeable selves… We end with a Self that is aware of its own separation from things, from other people, from memories – and even from its own thoughts…
This separation of the self can [be imagined through] a biological analogy; as development. A baby lives at first in the ocean of amniotic fluid, inside the mother; and only gradually, incrementally, does the baby’s self become separate from the mother’s self – first by birth, then by development and increasing independence… but only in adolescence does the child at some point become existentially separate – an agent.
The concept of ultimate reality — called “universal reality” in the quotation above — is that our material world is the effect, and not cause, of the world as it actually is. This makes sense to some degree, but could benefit from an upgrade to monism.
Monism is the notion that there is no division between physics and metaphysics; the two play by the same rules, which we might refer to as “information science” because reality behaves like ideas, according to logical principles, more than arising from the properties of material itself.
This can have an agnostic version, which is that this function can exist independent of a god or enduring metaphysical reality, but appreciating the wisdom of the design of existence leads to a recognition that the world exists like a calculator, refining itself toward some ongoing state of higher complexity or qualitative improvement.
If the world acts like a calculator or mathematical equation, it possesses some form of consciousness or tendency. Much like natural selection, this tendency engages in purposive calculations much as natural selection does, resulting in a greater degree of efficiency or function.
This implies a basic consciousness, like that in a computer that is aware of itself without having a centralized and self-aware ego. Life merely does what it does, but in doing so, it creates a product that is like thought itself. It forever refines what it has into something more advanced, and in doing so, comes to know itself.
For humans, this provides the basis of understanding the world beyond the material but without venturing into dualistic theories where an external controlling force is assumed. Instead, the world itself is its own force, without a need to articulate itself. This shows us where we fit into this order.
In such an order, whatever advances complexity and organization rises above the rest, even if through the most primitive methods possible. This occurs because this order is a self-refining system, which means that it aims toward qualitative improvement constantly, instead of simply expanding outward into every possibility, which would be quantitative expansion.
Naturally, such an order points upward toward some centralizing force or at least, the highest apex of qualitative order. This implies that something God-like exists within the world. If the world is idea, then there is some ultimate direction or purpose to the calculating state of those ideas. If there is a purpose, there is a source of direction or fulfillment of goal in an apex.
This view shows us the universe as a giant calculator or computer. It churns through endless calculations, finding better answers all the time, and then integrates those in order to discover what principles it may. Those are regulated by some sense of logic or
If something acts like a calculator, meaning that it transacts computations, it has some kind of consciousness. Our universe clearly engages in purposive calculations like natural selection, gradualism and organicism. This reveals its basic level of consciousness.
Our universe clearly engages in purposive calculations like natural selection, and this means that it has some basic form of consciousness. It aims to improve itself not in quantity, but in quality, which is metaphorically equivalent to getting a more exact answer.
With that in mind, we see that it does not have fixed “purpose,” but rather a mechanism by which it gradually advances the more-complex over the less-complex. This is nihilistic: it does not judge by whether the outcome is good, only goes through the calculations without emotion.
At this point, we see the universe as nihilistic or without judgment of our human desires. It is merely functional, entirely logical, and separate from any particular form or direction.
This inhuman nature provides stability. It means that the universe reaches its conclusions without considering the emotional affect of them, and so can act independently from any central control least of all that by a thinking, judging perspective.
From this, we can see the emptiness of the universe. It does not assess good or bad; it merely functions. We are alone, actors within a complex schema, trying to find what produces the best results — “good” — among infinite options for lesser success, a.k.a. “bad.”
Dualism posits that there is a perfect order in another world, and that we emulate it in this world as a means of being “good.” Monism recognizes only cold, hard logic, and sees no human role in it except as deluded monkeys with car keys attempting to rationalize their fate.
However, the positive factor of monism is that it suggests that the universe is consistent. There is no judgment at all, or personality involved, only the mechanistic actions of cause and effect. This liberates us from the superstition of trying to guess what a personality in control of us intends, and shows us life as a logical construct, independent of our emotions.
That mentality leads to transcendentalism. We see the world as a perfect order, working blindly and independently, and so instead of trying to influence it with our emotions, we discipline ourselves according to its wisdom. In doing so, we adapt to it, and improve our own thinking to be more realistic.
At the end of the day, this is all we have ever had: a consistent universe and our ability to understand it. If metaphysics is out there, it is consistent like the rest. Everything else is human projection and must be avoided, unless we — like so many others — want to delude ourselves and fall into oblivion.