Once upon a time, humans seemed to have something like “free will”: the ability to creatively conceive of and redesign their circumstances. With more water of wisdom under the bridge of perception, it becomes clear that people are more like mushrooms than the “free will” creature, although the root of our individualism requires we celebrate ourselves as “free will” demigods.
As neo-mushrooms, humans mostly react to their environment, specifically their food source. When the paycheck is threatened, they start acting erratically until the food source is resumed. Most of us have no experience with domains beyond a few areas where we have knowledge, so most of how the world works is a mystery, leaving us dependent on a few methods we have internalized for getting by.
Even more, the neo-mushrooms react sluggishly if at all to any event without immediate impact. Something more than two weeks — the time between paychecks — away is as distant as the moon and remote as the Punic Wars. Humans roll through life, reacting to what they recognize, filtering out the rest, and hoping for the best.
Rarely do you see an event where a human stops, analyzes the situation, works out a hypothesis and tests it before going ahead. People rely on what others tell them, what they read or see, or pure gut instinct or emotional reaction. There is actually very little thought going on, and most of what humans call “thought” is in fact memorized call-and-response style tropes.
As is natural in a society dominated by popularity and thus appearance, there is a huge market for “reputable” evidence that defends our assumptions. Most people choose what they believe based on what they feel they need to believe in order to perceive their lives as sensible and good, and so they are constantly rationalizing, looking for reasons to believe that emotions of the self are better than the logic of the world.
One such rationalizer is Eckhart Tolle, who writes against thinking:
The stream of thinking has enormous momentum that can easily drag you along with it. Every thought pretends that it matters so much. It wants to draw your attention in completely.
Here is a new spiritual practice for you: don’t take your thoughts too seriously.
…The human mind, in its desire to know, understand, and control, mistakes its opinions and viewpoints for the truth. It says: this is how it is. You have to be larger than thought to realize that however you interpret “your life” or someone else’s life or behavior, however you judge any situation, it is no more than a viewpoint, one of many possible perspectives. It is no more than a bundle of thoughts. But reality is one unified whole, in which all things are interwoven, where nothing exists in and by itself. Thinking fragments reality — it cuts it up into conceptual bits and pieces.
Here is the deception: “Thinking fragments reality — it cuts it up into conceptual bits and pieces.”
This is an emotional argument, not a realistic one. Thinking, which he confuses with deconstruction, can also be unitive with the world. The sleight of hand here is in conflating one type of thought with the whole thing, and using that to argue for what is a concealed emotional approach to the world. In other words: turn off your brain, feel and react with your body.
In contrast to that, Bruce Charlton offers the idea of Primary Thinking, which is understanding the world through patterns by using a process not entirely different from mythic imagination which is one aspect of traditionalism (see also my essay, “The Philosophical Essence of the Northern Traditions,” in Northern Traditions). Charlton demonstrates his view, parallel to that of Plato, a pattern-based understanding of reality:
“One problem with this idea is that it threatens to destroy the re-ality (“thingishness”) of the world by making it wholly dependent on thought — a hallucination, essentially. Without something that exists independently of our own thoughts there is, it seems, no world. ”
Not quite. There is a world – a world of raw phenomena, without meaning. There really are things, and we really sense them – but without ‘concepts’ (which we provide, in thinking) nothing means anything, then nothing could or would add up to anything (our experience would be of a blooming, buzzing confusion, to quote William James).
Concepts in this case refers to that which unites disconnected thoughts and understands a cause-effect, or at least related structures, relationship between thoughts and reality. Writing within the German Idealist tradition, Charlton sees the possibility of a “universal reality” which is thought-like more than purely material, and in this, his writing reaches back to the original ideas of the Vedic sages.
In this sense, thinking is a union of creativity and perception, but it is not generative, meaning that it is driven by understanding of reality and not the manufacturing of ideas which are self-referential to the human mind alone. This offers a more complex but saner vision than Tolle, updating the “do not think” to “think only what is real.”
Realism is different than other philosophies because, unlike ideologies, it is not universalist. That is: it presents itself as an intellectual tool used to uncover other things which can make the individual more accurate or effective, but it does not proclaim itself to be an absolute morality or something that all people must obey. Rather, like true statements, it is a choice for those who want to move up a level in power over themselves:
Our primary choice is whether to opt-in to the reality of God’s creation – or not. This is a real choice – and has real consequences. In principle a person might simply decline to join creation – and to surrender self-consciousness, and all the personhood which has been given us by becoming a child of God. This is not an evil choice – it is the choice of nihilism, of non-reality – but it is not evil (it indeed bears some relation to the ideal of ‘Eastern’ religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism).
The evil choice is to decline to joining God’s work of creation; but to hold onto God’s gifts to us – to hold-onto meaning, purpose and relationship – but to impose our own personal meanings upon them. It is to try and take what is personally gratifying from creation, but not to join creation. It is to adopt a stance towards creation that sees it primarily as a thing to be exploited.
The important words there involve the concept of joining (Reality). In this view, primary thinking is a method of finding union with the order of nature — similar to the form that is the set of Platonic forms — through understand it not at a human level, but in terms of its own structure and purpose.
Charlton derives his view from the work of Rudolf Steiner, who argues for primary thinking as a root structure of reality:
I believe I have given sufficient reasons for making thinking the starting point for my study of the world. When Archimedes had discovered the lever, he thought he could lift the whole cosmos from its hinges, if only he could find a point of support for his instrument. He needed something that was supported by itself and by nothing else.
In thinking we have a principle which subsists through itself.
…There is no denying that before anything else can be understood, thinking must be understood. Whoever denies this fails to realize that man is not the first link in the chain of creation but the last. Hence, in order to explain the world by means of concepts, we cannot start from the elements of existence which came first in time, but we must begin with that element which is given to us as the nearest and most intimate.
German Idealism, and its Vedic and Greek roots before it, holds that the world is either composed of thought or thought-like. This belief system draws a distinction between accurate thought, which references the patterns of reality through comparison and so discovers which patterns can be accurate, and solipsism, which is entirely human self-referential thought, and is “generative” in the sense of creating notions which do not correspond to reality.
In a world which is composed of something like thought, then, our only task is to make our own thoughts understand the underlying informational structure of the universe. This leads us to esoteric thought, which is the opposite of universal thought. In universal thought, there is one thing that everyone must do to be right; in esoteric thought, there are only degrees of power and meaning in parallel conveyed by different types of activity.
For example, anyone can make a mud hut and live as a subsistence farmer and bushmeat gatherer, which has probably been the default state of humanity for aeons. This is distinct from organized farming, where people work together to till large fields; it means that behind his hut, a man plants trees and other flora that provide him directly with food. Bushmeat is usually trapped more than hunted, and if you can enjoy a stew of rabbits, rats and other small animals, along with a diet of roots, fruits, berries and leafy vegetables, subsistence level is just fine. It does not allow for much organization because the margins are narrow, which is to say that the subsistence farmer is barely surviving. The next step up would be to insert organization into the process and focus more on farming crops which are indirect in benefit, like grains which can be fed to livestock. The next step up is organized farming, and there may be many steps beyond that. The point here is that subsistence farming works, and there is not an inherent or innate need to rise above that state, but some may choose to in order to gain heretofore unknown benefits like civilization. The same is true of learning.
The normal human “needs” only some very basic knowledge in order to survive. Anything else on top of that is a positive benefit, but with some caveats. First, many if not most people find this inaccessible because they lack the necessary circuits in their minds. Genetically, they do not have the code to produce the biological apparatus for having understanding above a certain level. To them, anything more complex than what their minds can comprehend is bizarre and stupid, and “educating” them only enables them to be wrong in a less obvious form, fooling others. This means that each person has a limited potential for understanding beyond subsistence, and that there is no universal standard to which people can be held. As in life, in matters of philosophy and religion, there is a de facto caste system created by nature.
For those who are able to push further, the benefits are apparent, but this is not true of others. Your average person has no idea why someone would be delighted by an abstract, timeless or cosmic truth; the average person is interested in comfort, safety and enjoyment between now and the next paycheck, and not much else. Even among the talented, there are relatively few who are concerned with the consequences of their actions; for most, it is enough to rationalize these results to themselves, and to come up with a socially acceptable excuse for their behavior, instead of worrying about the actual outcome in reality. The remaining group — the talented who are also concerned about realistic results — have contributed almost all of the good done by humanity. They tend to indulge in thinking as a means of understanding reality and refining their own minds, a type of self-discipline, and so are constantly probing their knowledge of life both as a sensible act and because it brings them joy to understand the mysteries, wonders and potentialities of creation.
In contrast to thinking, what most people engage in might be referred to as solipsism or simply hubris. They know the world through their minds, and so they take that picture of reality as literal, instead of realizing that alongside perception they are also getting internal echo based on what their bodies fear and their emotions desire, and that these phantom images are like scapegoats or universal symbols a misleading path. Those phantom images come from the outer portions of humanity — body, personality, social concerns, ego — and do not reflect the inner view. This duality of body/outer-mind and inner mind is inherent to humanity, and represents the difference between reactive or generative thinking, which is external as it is mostly stimulus response, and directed and focused primary thinking, through which we can achieve direct knowledge of the world, which in that state reveals itself as a continuity between the physical and metaphysical, united in idealism or the thought-like nature of reality:
Knowledge of some-thing is — as the Old Icelandic kunnleik suggests — an intimate, detailed, knowing of and acquaintance with that ‘thing’, whereas information (enformation) is merely a statement or a collection of statements about or concerning some-thing.
Or expressed in our now familiar terms, knowledge — as we understand it — is numinous, a part of one’s life, whereas information is lifeless, causal, an outer form. For in terms of esoteric, Occult, matters, to know is both to learn from personal experience and to place what is so learnt in a particular context, that of one’s personal internal and external journey along the particular way or path that one has, by initiation, chosen to follow.
Paradoxically, in order to know the world outside of ourselves, we must go deeper into ourselves, but discipline that spectrum of notions by the principles and patterns of the outer world, bypassing instead the misleading veil of personality, ego, materialism and social influences. Just as we do not find truth in democracy, humanism, consumerism or narcissism, we cannot find it in the outer edges of our minds, but only in the part that connects us to intuition, through which we know a priori concepts, per Immanuel Kant, who saw the world as entirely discovered by intuition.
But I understand under the transcendental idealism of all appearances the doctrine according to which they are all together to be regarded as mere representations, and not as things in themselves, and accordingly that space and time are only sensible forms of our intuition, but not determinations given for themselves, or conditions of objects as things in themselves.
Schopenhauer later clarified this to state that the outside world exists independently of us, but that we know it only through our own perception, so that there may be more of it than we perceive. At this point, it becomes clear that the esoteric idea — that knowledge is cumulative, and reveals itself only when previous levels have been mastered — accurately describes the situation. Most perceive some, others perceive more, and very few come even broadly close to perceiving all.
This esoteric approach means that there is not any single truth that all humans can appreciate, and in fact that most will oppose it and attempt to dilute it with illusions, but that pursuit of knowledge of the world through thinking is our only path to realism, or those perceptions of reality which are accurate enough to be called “actual,” which is the concept which most intend when they use the word “truth”:
One of the main reasons for the existence of esoteric groups such as the Order of Nine Angles is to be a living hereditary repository of a certain type of knowledge – kunnleik – and to personally, directly, encourage some individuals to acquire the culture, the habit, of learning – practical, scholarly, esoteric – and thus enable them to move in the traditional esoteric manner toward the goal of discovering and thence acquiring wisdom; and which wisdom is a balanced personal judgement and a particular knowledge of a pagan, Occult, kind to do with livings beings, human nature, Nature and ‘the heavens’. This involves possessing/developing certain esoteric faculties/skills; acquiring an honest knowing of one’s self, one’s character; possessing an Aeonic understanding; and thus discovering Reality beyond, and sans, all causal abstractions.
Idealism bypasses the confusion of much of philosophy because it embraces monism, or the idea that there is continuity between the physical, the metaphysical, and the mental. That avoids the condition of dualism, where we suppose that the world is different than its essence in structure and thus in its patterns, which renders actuality unknowable to us, usually as a means of justifying “faith” or some form of emotion-based reasoning.
With monism, there is no distinction between soul and body, as both are manifestations of the same thing and are in parallel as a result. Where a dualist might say that we all have equal souls, but that these are vested in unequal bodies, a monist recognizes that we are all unequal, and the body carries a soul appropriate to it. Matt Briggs puts this notion in more elegant language in his description of the union of body and soul:
Now, the most evenly tempered body is the human, so that, if an intellectual substance is united to a mixed body, the latter must be of the same nature as the human body; and its form, too, would be of the same nature as the human soul, if it were an intellectual substance. Hence, there would be no specific difference between the animal so constituted and man.
In contrast to modern notions, this ancient and future idea embraces the thought that we are effects and not causes, meaning that whatever form we have fits our mental abilities, which is consistent with the esoteric idea of knowledge being not universally valuable, nor uniformly achievable, and being measured in degrees within cumulative levels accessible only to those with the biological aptitude to pursue them. Thus, there are some souls to whom the esoteric knowledge is available, and only those will find it to be relevant, while others will oppose it; this is a more advanced form of the shorthand that is “good” and “evil.”
For this reason, the thought available to us is as organic and natural as our bodies, and this means that those who can think will find themselves adapted to doing so, which in turn means that without doing so, they are doing themselves harm. While we are taught that religion is a variety of propaganda or dogma, in reality, it is an experience of the world both through the intuition and that disciplines our inner thought, improving us as it reveals answers to mysteries that most cannot even conceptualize.
With that in mind, we see the importance of religion in traditional societies: it was not a means of enforcing obedience or unity, but a positive option for people to demonstrate sanity and thus rise in the hierarchy above others who were presumed to be “common” like most of the species and thus inconsequential for higher decision-making. In this context, spirituality is better than “free will”: it is a choice to pursue something like an optional destiny to be a better version of who one is at an inner level.