Furthest Right

Thinking And Self-Consciousness

Bruce Charlton brings up an excellent point with his most recent post on ancient knowledge:

Like most good metaphysics, Ingwaz comes from the solid, primary, necessary intuition that we are thinking. From this comes the inference that whatever we think, do, know or whatever – thinking is involved. There is no way of getting-at any objective reality that does not involve thinking – it is nonsense (makes no sense) to be thinking there is an objective realm of ‘facts’ that are autonomous from thinking.

However, this is NOT the ‘idealism’ of stating that there is only mind, and ‘reality’ is an illusion; what is being stated is that thinking is involved in everything – therefore, everything includes thinking. The thinking cannot be detached from anything, thinking is always involved in everything.

To this I add a few ideas. The first is that what we know of the world is formed of our interaction with it, but this does not mean that it cannot be realistic, because we do not face an either/or option regarding external/internal objects.

“Objectivism” is nonsense. Objective and subjective are human fantasies. Reality is more like objectivity than subjectivity, but it uses subjective means to get there. Heisenberg and Schrodinger smile down on us as we realize that as observers, we are inextricably bound up with what we observe, and what we know is “a representation of a representation” as Schopenhauer says, meaning that our thought-objects (engrams) are representations reflecting the highly filtered (per Kant) and active process of perception.

We the conscious mind are observers on the balcony of a large building, looking through the glass below at objects made by a busy staff of dendrites, based on something they see through binoculars and can recognize according to a vast Book Of Known Objects which tells them what to look for. For humans, to look is to filter, and we find only what we know how to see.

Idealism however is more complex.

Kant’s transcendental idealism was a modest philosophical doctrine about the difference between appearances and things in themselves, which claimed that the objects of human cognition are appearances and not things in themselves. Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel radicalized this view, transforming Kant’s transcendental idealism into absolute idealism, which holds that things in themselves are a contradiction in terms, because a thing must be an object of our consciousness if it is to be an object at all…Inspired by Karl Leonhard Reinhold, they attempted to derive all the different parts of philosophy from a single, first principle. This first principle came to be known as the absolute, because the absolute, or unconditional, must precede all the principles which are conditioned by the difference between one principle and another. – “Germanic Idealism, Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Others show us further divisions between transcendental idealism and the more extreme versions to follow:

It examines the relationship between epistemological idealism (the view that the contents of human knowledge are ineluctably determined by the structure of human thought) and ontological idealism (the view that epistemological idealism delivers truth because reality itself is a form of thought and human thought participates in it). – “Idealism,” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

This leads us to Schopenhauer, who made sense of the dispute. In his view, idealism did not suggest that objects were created by our minds — he explicitly states this early in his works on the topic — but that what we knew of as objects existed within our minds. Further, the universe was created of thought, or something thought-like, and obeyed the principles of thought more than those of matter, which is a fancy way of returning to Plato’s idea that organizational form (information, pattern) is more important than its material substrate.

The most common misunderstanding of idealism is the solipsistic fallacy, which is the notion that the world exists within the mind and vanishes when we are not there to see it. This flatters the human ego.

Charlton is insightful yet again. All of our intuition, emotion and even subconscious response are forms of thinking, as necessarily is our perception. This is where the Buddhists ran off the rails: by attempting to separate thought from intuition, they created a false intuition which, while powerful, leads to incorrect conclusions. The Hindus did not have this illusion.

Charlton’s site is worth visiting. I used to comment frequently on his posts until he adopted the Google Accounts only rule, which has driven away a number of his regular commentators who would rather link to our homesites than indulge the Google Authority in yet another expansion. Nonetheless, it is always a worthy read and I am told he now accepts comments via email. Having dealt with Blogger’s ancient and crusty interface and limited comment options, I can see why he made the decision he did, although I would not have done so.

Where I can offer more to this debate is with the notion of self-conscious. The self conscious person is not aware of himself, but of himself as he appears to others. Otherwise, he has no need for visualization of the self. Self-consciousness is a politician promising voters what they want to hear; it is a salesman saying words that appeal to the fears and suppressed desires of his audience; it is a hep cat at the club telling people that what they want to do, not what they should do, is new and therefore more important than what works well.

With self-conciousness, even our internal thinking becomes corrupted. We no longer know what we need, or even what we want, but can only pay attention to the value of things to others and feel we should have them. We are entirely reactive to what the herd is doing, and what seems to be the trend of the moment. The granular decision-making of the individual is replaced by wave motion.

The intellect, when not aware of itself, serves the raw animal will of the individual. This is separate from individualism; the individual is aware of his position in the hierarchy and rank order of the universe, and does not aim to rise above (hubris). Instead, he simply seeks the best advantage and to maximize his position because it is immutable.

When societies grow, the bloat affords voice to the agents of decay: merchants, whores, vandals, idiots, sycophants, charlatans, lawyers, priests, perverts, apologists, denialists, sado-masochists, victims, flatterers and white knights. This enables the concept of individualism, or self first in conflict with role and duty. From this comes self-consciousness, or the “Will I get caught?” mentality of someone in the process of doing the non-helpful.

Traditional societies were not self-conscious because they were aware of a hierarchy above the social level. They thought about natural order, rank among others, and God, but not social prowess and popularity. This saved them from the neurosis that currently devours civilization. With self-consciousness, thinking becomes a slave to the self, and in so doing, to the herd and its endless doubt and fear.

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