Bruce Charlton writes, as always, an insightful analysis of human mental self discipline. In it, he argues the following:
- Perception is regulated by conceptual understanding. What we know how to recognize in the flood of data coming in from our senses, we can mentally process. Everything else slips by into chaos.
- If true knowledge is possible, it must come from valid concepts. Because these can be shared between people, they must exist outside of people, or be in the world like neo-Platonic forms.
- Therefore, those who think purely in terms of concepts will be accurate, which means that we can think without evidence and achieve understanding of the universe.
- In essence, pure conceptual thinking is how we understand reality.
Charlton attributes this schema to Rudolf Steiner’s early philosophical book The Philosophy of Freedom, but alert readers here will recognize the actual root of this idea: Immanuel Kant and his idea of intuition as the basis of a priori understanding.
In my own writing, specifically the unpublished Parallelism, I expand on the basic concept of the black pill and how it leads to understanding reality.
Humans have big brains, and those receive stronger signals from themselves than the world, which is a problem especially because we know the world through our memories of it, encoded as tokens based on our conclusion of the relevant parts to us. This comes after we filter the world, as Charlton notes, through what we know to look for, living in “a representation of a representation” as Schopenhauer argues. We never come in contact with the raw data because it would be like trying to drink from a firehose and would paralyze our reaction times.
Consequently, any process of understanding involves separating what we know to be true from what is merely signal reflected back from our big brains. We have to navigate our assumptions, emotions, impulses, neurotic mental chatter and tendency toward quick absolute categorical judgments in order to do this, among other perceptual pitfalls and glitches.
At this point, we must consider “evidence” versus “logical fact.” Evidence is what we can derive from our perception, but as illustrated above, it is already heavily filtered through our conceptual outlook. Further, it is based on material factors, such as how parts of reality interact, but blind to pattern which represents the organization of reality and its structure (analogous to Platonic forms). Evidence therefore is best for figuring out how to do things like make gasoline engines or grow crops, but not so good when it comes to questions of understanding reality under the surface formed of the interaction of material objects, like seeds plus water equals plants.
Logical fact, on the other hand, consists of looking at the organization of these material parts and deriving principles about how they work. Mathematics and philosophy are the closest to this field because they analyze patterns and their transformation, but these become difficult because we are unsure that what seems logically true corresponds to reality, which is wily and has twists and turns and emergent complexities. Enter parallelism: the idea that patterns occur in parallel across multiple domains, including thought, energy and matter.
With parallelism, we can see what patterns recur in multiple places in our world, and use these as the basis for understanding new input. This works through a type of metaphor that is more exact than what we expect from language. It requires precision about the nature of each pattern and why it works as it does, animating the structure with an understanding of purpose.
At this point, we are starting to get somewhere. We have a way of knowing what is true beyond any immediate circumstance because we can see the pattern in multiple places and its function or role is consistent. At that point, we are able to discipline our thought to being like that of the universe, and in so doing, realize its logical basis. As discovered by the German Idealists, the universe behaves in a thought-like way, and appears to respond at the level of structure as we would expect thoughts to do so.
Now we have moved beyond materialism. We see first the world as a function of order or pattern, and next, that structure as resembling thought, which works by having multiple impulses and selecting whichever one is compatible with everything that already exists, or is parallel to the rest of structure. This enables us to see the universe as having an inherent mode of operation and intent, one that is initially foreign to the world of human intent, which reflects our interests within the structure as we perceive them without knowledge of that structure.
This in turn requires us to look into what the intent of the universe might be. It seems to specialize in making beauty out of nothingness, but also, by holding to a hard line of logical fact that punishes that which deviates from compatibility with its order. Through processes like natural selection and entropy, it destroys that which is disorganized and reshapes the rest into greater degrees of order, balance and efficiency.
From this vantage point, we can see the nature of a divine force or something like one: benevolent in intent, rigorously logical in method, and focused on urging us upward toward greater order, versus our tendency as human monkeys to scatter in divergent chaotic directions in pursuit of our personal illusions, desires and other artifacts of having a lack of focus toward the divine. We are evil not because we mean badly, but because our thought and thus behavior is not disciplined.
Since we have ventured into metaphysics, we might take a look at an old theorem of Plato’s. We can see cause-effect relationships in everyday life, but now we know that these are a product of a thought-like structure to the universe, which like a computation seeks to resolve a problem constantly in order to refine itself; think of a self-programming computer, always testing its own code to find what works better, and replacing the old code with the new, more precise algorithms.
This means that in addition to regular cause-effect relationships, there is a bigger cause-effect relationship formed of compatibility between patterns and a steady pressure toward upward organization. This no longer acts like self-interested material objects, but a purposeful Designer who is starting us as dust and working us toward a god-like level, or as close as we can get.
In addition, we know that this causal space of pattern is much larger than the physical objects in which it manifests, meaning that our material world is the smaller part, and the world of thought much larger, implying not a dualistic “second world” but an extension to this one formed of the patterns as the universe intends them, not our perceptions of them. In this space, which is so large as to be infinite, information matters more than material, and here we see that the presence of our minds as information agents can have applicability beyond our physical selves.
None of this was unknown to the ancients, but then again, instead of checking Twitter every thirty minutes, they were sitting in darkened caves in deep thought guided by regular breathing and a suppression of the chattering monkey creating a background hum inside our heads. Clarity of thought, and eventually metaphysical experience, came naturally for them.
As we look toward peeling back the layers of the onion that is modernity, realizing that it started from a lie and that the only way to beat it is to head in a contrary direction, it makes sense to return to this focus on meditative understanding of structure. It does not contradict the realistic imperative that we adapt to material reality, but shows us a stage in which to go once we achieve basic sanity, and a basis for a spirituality which does not — like almost all existing forms of religion — lead us further into the illusion of ourselves.