Knowledge of the World
Related: metaphysical ideas in other people's work.
also see some Assorted Brief Writings on Knowing.
Ultimately all knowledge begins in complete darkness, nothing is known, all that one has access to is the sensory data impinging upon ones consciousness without even knowing what these signals mean. From this we experience the world, individually in our own lives and collectively throughout history. We come to notice patterns or uniformities that we can draw out and label and weave into a mythic discourse. By this I mean we take the labeled phenomena and weave a story involving them to try and explain them, what they are, why they exist and behave as they do. These myths allow us to believe we understand the world and it assists us in coping with the world even if the myths are flawed; all animals are good at intuitively coping in almost complete ignorance but we humans are not good at coping with the knowledge of the extent of our ignorance so we fill the gaps with myths. Over time we experience more sensory input and we come to experience the world through our myths and thereby test the myths. To begin with there is very little concordance with reality, the myths are little more than unfamiliar labels woven into a familiar story such as “some mythical being came and put the mountains here” or “an atom is like a billiard ball”.
Through these myths we bootstrap our way out of darkness. Starting from nothing we develop a myth and through this we see a little clearer or deeper and we discover more phenomena to label and weave into the myth. With each successive iteration our myths become a little closer to the truth and we see a little clearer and deeper.
Over time these myths are tested by experience and they grow and evolve into complex theories that have many points of concordance with reality but which still ultimately rest upon myth. The scientific method is a systematisation of this process of mythologising and refinement by testing points of concordance with reality. Experimental science is the method of testing and theoretical science is the method of mythologising. As these theories grow and align with reality they become strange and abstract, not at all like the empirical world that we perceive. Even though they may still retain labels that have been associated with familiar empirical phenomena these labels have evolved in meaning. For example, the concept of 'spin' is important in quantum physics but it differs somewhat from the normal concept in that a quantum object must spin through 720o before it does a full turn and is in its original state. This seems incomprehensible from a classical perspective, it cannot be coherently written into any classical myth so when phenomena such as this become known we need to re-write our myths to accommodate it. In the case of the photo-electric effect and other quantum phenomena the re-writing produced quantum physics, which is a truly bizarre mythical conceptualisation of reality.
Through many refinements over time the myth is brought into closer alignment with the truth and if the mythical framework is flexible enough and open enough these refinements will percolate throughout the mythic discourse and transform it. Eventually these myths, if they do not crystallise and become dogma, tend asymptotically toward the truth. Ultimately it is theoretically possible that the mythic discourse will become a model of the truth of the world, however by this stage it will no longer be an empirical theory consisting of familiar empirical concepts, it will be highly abstract and low level. It would allow us to understand behind the scenes of empirical reality and truly understand why things seem the way they seem but it would explain this in terms of a transcendent reality without recourse to empirical myths.
Generally this level of refinement is difficult to attain because the deeper layers of myth within our theories are often not known to exist. It's origins are lost in time, it has been covered up by many layers and has become so deeply ingrained in our minds that we are unaware that it is a mythic assumption and not a simple certainty of existence. Thus it is often the deepest layers of myth that are the hardest to rectify and also the most rewarding. Physics had to let go of classicality in order to comprehend quantum phenomena but it still mostly clings to physicality, which prevents it from comprehending the information theoretic foundations of reality, however information physics is making good progress and process physics is perhaps leading the way. The deepest layers form our deepest assumptions about the world, these condition our entire experience of the world so by rectifying our deepest myths we may make vast leaps in our understanding and experience of the world. By transforming our deepest myths we may transform our perception, experience, response to and relationship with reality, we may evolve to a new state of being.
This process is related to the universal solvent of the Alchemists who weren't interested in creating gold as some naively think, that was all analogy and secrecy to protect themselves from brutal repression; they were involved in personal transmutation and the attainment of higher states of being. Their universal solvent was V.I.T.R.I.O.L or “Visitas Interiorae Terrae Rectificando Invenes Occultum Lappidum” or “Visit the interior of earth and by rectification thou shalt discover the philosophers stone” or “delve down to the lowest foundation of any situation and then rectify upwards and in doing so one shall perfect the entire structure” or “By delving into the metaphysical foundations of any situation and by connecting with truth or the ground of being and building in a coherent manner toward higher levels of existence one will create and discover in a manner that is consistent with truth and is therefore a pure, sacred and enduring aspect of the cosmos”. So by delving into the lowest levels of ones metaphysics and rectifying upwards one may align wholly with truth and liberate oneself from delusion and thereby attain a higher state of being.
The deepest myth is egoic identification with empirical existence, the I-thought that is the foundation of all myths. It underlies the coming into being of the entire empirical world, prior to this there is no physicality or space or objects or events. All these are later myths that depend upon the belief in separate existence. As is known in yoga, when the I-thought is uprooted enlightenment is realised as ones natural state of being that has been present the whole time.
The process of mythologising is essentially the process of system analysis by initially defining the system boundaries and relations and making a system model and testing it against reality. When we define a mythic entity such as an atom we are taking the cosmic network and drawing out of it an object, it is up to us where we place the system boundaries to define the object. Ultimately an atom is a mythic entity like a unicorn; it may well be that there are phenomena in the world that are explained well by the concept atom but atoms only exist within the context of the mythic discourse, there is no absolute, separate entity in the universe that IS an atom however there may be phenomena that when we perceive them we think atom.
Information system theory (IST) and system matrix notation (SMN) are also mythic discourses; in truth there are no such things as systems or information spaces let alone system matrices and so on. These are mythic entities but when one looks through this mythic discourse it can help make sense of the world. This is the ultimate test of a myth, does it give vision and understanding. This is an aspect of mythologising that science seems to have largely neglected, it seeks a purely instrumentalist approach to knowledge. This is wise in one respect; it wont get bogged down in uncontrolled mythologising which can dilute and corrupt a whole field of knowledge, however it gives rise to sterile meaningless methodologies that may harness great power from the world but they provide no understanding or wisdom regarding how to safely apply that power. It may suite science's internal agenda to minimise its use of myths but we humans need myths of some kind, if we can't find good myths then any myth will do. On the whole, whilst modern technology is proliferating and our power is increasing, our modern understanding of the world seems rudimentary, fractured and dangerously primitive. Many people have become nihilists or hedonists or pragmatists or instrumentalists. There is no longer a cohesive mythic discourse that people can turn to in order to feel that they understand; there is a mythic power vacuum in the global mind space.
Even a faulty myth serves a purpose, in the present absence of meaningful scientific myths people are turning in all directions to find meaning and to contextualise themselves in the world. In this respect many people live within cultural myths that have little relation to the underlying physics or metaphysics of reality. In this respect people live in worlds that are not connected with the underlying reality and this causes them to act in ways that are destructive to that underlying reality. For example, leading lifestyles based upon advertising aesthetics and cosmopolitan chic thus engaging in rampant consumption and production leading to ecological catastrophe.
I use the words truth and delusion with meanings that differ from contemporary usage and are closer to the old usage; in my usage truth is not contained in any empirical statements or theories or scriptures and delusion doesn't carry any value judgment and it signifies not only that which is seriously deluded but is a term which applies to anything that is not wholly the truth, hence every empirical thing is a product of delusion to some degree because it is a product of entropic perception and interpretation. The truth is That which IS, it is the ultimate reality prior to the act of perception that creates the phenomenal world. In one respect the truth is the transcendent state of the cosmic network, but in a deeper respect it is beyond all words and definitions because these are empirical constructs, it is simply That which IS. It is the transcendent cause, which underlies the empirical effect.
To what degree can truth be known? Any language or idiom may be translated into another idiom, within the constraints of requisite variety and idiomatic structure, such as human languages or conceptual frameworks or even representing a ship as a plastic model. So too may the transcendent idiom be represented within an empirical idiom but in general the empirical idiom lacks the requisite variety and has too high level an idiomatic structure to accurately and completely represent the transcendent idiom unless one resorts to extreme measures, this is the problem of trying to express Spiritual Truths in common language, the analogies are subtle and invariably misunderstood. But even if the two idioms are compatible, the one who does the representing is an empirical being and accesses their world via a perceptual process which introduces distortions. Any act of perception is entropic thereby discarding some information and it also involves some interpretation, which depends upon belief thus introducing new information. So the perceptual barrier introduces a degree of delusion because the empirical perception differs from the transcendent reality.
Consider a simple example of a computer acting as a transcendent information space that manifests an empirical virtual world that is occupied only by large numbers of two types of blocks and a single sentient being that is an empirical perceptual system and who is the observer in this example. There are red blocks and blue blocks which can be combined in certain ways to build higher level constructs which may be further combined. These block constructions are the empirical idiom that defines the totality of all empirical forms that may exist within that empirical world.
Within this example scenario the truth is the totality of the computer, its detailed dynamics and functioning, its programming, the flow of information through the computer and the manifestation of an empirical context with particular properties as well as all of the details of the empirical structures and phenomena that arise within the virtual world. The totality of the scenario is the Truth of the scenario. But how much of this truth is theoretically representable from within the empirical world of blocks? The idiom of red and blue blocks can easily represent block constructions but it is much harder to represent such complex and transcendent concepts such as semi-conductors or quantum tunnelling effects or even the macroscopic structure of a computer or the logical structure of the programming or the dynamic flow of electricity and information or the subtle metaphysical phenomena by which the empirical world is created or simulated and so forth. The nature of the transcendent context is fundamentally different from the nature of the empirical context; that is why wisdom states that the truth can never be completely known or spoken, because that which exists within the world is subtly different in nature from that which is the cause of the world.
One could form the blocks into the shape of the word 'computer' and so forth but within the context of the block world these shapes have no meaning. Words are just pointers to experiences of things in the world but what is a 'computer' within that empirical context? That entire empirical universe consists only of blocks, there are no computers to point at and thereby give meaning to that word. It is conceivable that using trillions of blocks formed into a higher level idiom with a more complex basis set that the empirical idiom could achieve the requisite variety and idiomatic complexity required to create a model or simulation of the whole scenario. This would in fact create, within that empirical context, a sub transcendent context which then manifests a sub empirical world. Or in other words one could create within that blockworld a computer made out of blocks that then simulates another blockworld within its computational space. That would be as close a representation of the truth that could exist within that empirical context. It would still differ in many subtle ways from the transcendent computer because the empirical model is ultimately built out of red and blue blocks whilst the transcendent computer is built out of semi-conductors, copper wire, plastic and so on, which are composed of atoms, and so on. But ultimately everything is composed of information so in the theoretical limit the empirical idiom can represent the transcendent idiom entirely but one must go to extreme lengths to do so.
So far we have only considered how much truth could theoretically be represented but one also needs to consider how much truth can actually be perceived and experienced and known from within the empirical world by the sentient being that inhabits that world. Initially that being would know only blocks and block constructions; that would be their entire universe and everywhere they turned their senses that is all that they would perceive. But over time, through scientific discovery and deep contemplation and introspection they may gradually develop an understanding of the underlying information and system theoretic principles that manifest their world. These principles may then be represented using complex contortions of block constructions but there is a limit to what they can know about their transcendent context. They can only know the general principles, they could determine that it is a computational process and also discover some of the parameters of that computational process but they could never perceive the super empirical form of their transcendent context; they could never know that it was a particular brand and model of computer and that it was made from a particular configuration of particular types of materials. They could only ever experience it from within as a general computational process because, that is the only information that is available to them. Just like when you place a sticker on the case of a computer the operating system has no way of being aware of that fact; there is a separation of information spaces.
Anything less than building a detailed model is simply producing empirical forms which are sign posts that point within the empirical world and cannot point beyond into the transcendent world. A sentence which purports to state the truth cannot in general contain the truth unless the particular truth is amenable to being represented by empirical words; the sentence is a construct consisting of empirical forms, or sign posts in the world that cannot point directly at the truth that underlies the world. Such a sign post cannot BE the truth; just as a sign directing one to a mountain is only a sign directing one toward a mountain and is not the mountain itself. Only empirical truths may be completely represented by empirical constructs but empirical truths are just the shadows cast by deeper transcendent truths so to know the whole truth one must move beyond simple empirical constructs. Only to the degree that the empirical representation actually recreates the transcendent form can it represent the truth and only transcendent generalities are perceptible from within an empirical world so only general representations are possible from an empirical perspective.
To speak about reality is simply to engage in circular word games using empirical signs that cannot ever point beyond the empirical frame. In order to comprehend the underlying general principles of reality one must model them and recreate them within a sub context; one must be able to create sub realities and study them. This means that within the context of this empirical frame we produce a sub transcendent frame that can manifest sub empirical universes; i.e. we comprehend the mechanism whereby this world was created to the point that we ourselves can create sub universes. This is an example of the self similarity that characterises a fractal; this metaphysical structure that is our total reality is a fractal and SMN is simply a type of little Mandelbrot bug nestled deep within the seemingly chaotic complexities of a Mandelbrot Set. This process of modeling and re-creation is the method of mathematical science which is in one respect the process of discovering new idioms with which to represent the deeper truths and general principles of our world; or developing mathematical models and theoretical frameworks to create complex idioms within which to model aspects of our reality.
Within the theoretical context of IST, every information process is an idiomatic phenomenon so theoretically one can be translated into another so theoretically the truth can be known and represented to some degree. The above example illustrates the ultimate role of SMN, it is a step along the way toward learning how to take the empirical forms of our universe and use them to construct a model of our entire scenario and thereby represent the total Truth of our context. Anything less is ultimately just engaging in word games, which to some degree hint at the truth and can help us intuitively grasp the truth but can never actually represent the truth. Using words and concepts and computers and system matrices and so on, all of which are empirical forms in the world, one may weave these together in complex ways to form a model of the general transcendent processes that manifest this world. Using this model we have at our disposal a transcendent process that can then manifest sub universes, and using this model we can come to know the detailed general principles of how our universe came about due to the functioning of our transcendent context. In this respect SMN and IST are tools that open up the possibility of serious metaphysical research into the deepest truths of our existence. Even so, we can never be totally sure that all delusion has been eradicated.
One cannot BE other than the truth, otherwise one would not exist, but all empirical representations of the truth contain a degree of delusion because whilst the truth IS, it cannot be totally contained within any empirical representation; at some point there is somewhere, just a pointing finger which directs ones perception toward the truth but which cannot penetrate the veil of perception and capture the truth. So ones existence IS the truth but ones mind can never fully comprehend the truth because thoughts are cognitive states which are empirical constructs. Any statement or theory or thought may be a projection of the truth but it will also contain a degree of delusion.
The truth cannot in general be spoken, it cannot be given from one to another as a symbolic representation, the truth is the foundation, the source and the sustenance of all that IS, it is immanent in all things and may only be experienced in its totality as the innermost being of the cosmos. In the context of the above discussion SMN is an advancement in the attempt to empirically represent the truth of our existence but it can never replace the direct experience of the truth which is our innermost being. It helps us talk about the truth in a more meaningful way and may allow us to approach the truth more readily but ultimately we must leave all empirical representations behind and BE the truth to fully Know it.
To be open to truth is to be humble in the presence of the cosmos, to accept that ones mind cannot know everything and that ones empirical perspective is that of a limited empirical being. To confuse ones empirical knowledge for truth is to dwell in delusion and close oneself off from truth. Dwelling in delusion one denies the underlying transcendent state of the cosmic network and causes a region of the cosmic network to function as if its surrounding network had a different state. This is arrogance in the presence of the cosmos and leads one to believe that one knows it all and to act solely upon ones knowledge as if it was complete, but this introduces assumptions and preconceptions which will cause one to act in ways that are inappropriate for the holistic context and thereby brings one into conflict with the wider reality. For example, one of the underlying delusions that has lead countless civilisations to ecological collapse is the idea that the surrounding network can absorb an unlimited amount of arbitrary abuse and exploitation whilst still remaining an effective support system for life. But the ecosystem is finite and fragile; unless we discover the truth of its nature and its needs our arbitrary abuse will eventually destroy it, thereby destroying ourselves as well.
Human society, through language and culture, weaves our minds together into a collective “mind space” within which memes arise and propagate; a meme is in one respect a cognitive virus. In this context the media and education are the principle sources of memetic distribution, friends and family are the principle form of memetic reinforcement, the egoic 'I-thought' is the most virulent meme and marketing is the most persistent form of memetic propagation, which invests enormous energy to spread memes, not because of their utility to the receiver but because of profit for the transmitter, hence peoples minds and lives become host to countless memetic parasites, which can often lead to confusion, apathy, depression and psychosis.
Memes are, in another respect, programs which may run within our minds and provide us with functionality just like programs and device drivers may allow computer hardware to perform tasks that it otherwise could not have done and to integrate in ways that are otherwise impossible. Such memes can be highly useful if one can control them rather than be controlled by them.
Memes operate in a synergistic manner where the 'I-thought' makes ones mind susceptible to all other memetic infestations and this makes possible an ecosystem of memes where some memes make one susceptible to others whilst some inoculate one against others, this underlies the propaganda war that is a constant phenomenon within our cultural mind-space. A simplistic example is, if ones mind is infested with right wing capitalist memes one will be well inoculated against any stray left wing socialist memes that happen to cross ones path and vice versa; there is a dominant memetic culture that is hostile to foreign memes. Indeed that which people call cultural sophistication is in this context a measure of memetic infestation. The goal of yoga and meditation is to strengthen ones entire memetic immune system, quietening the inner commotion and ultimately uprooting the 'I-thought'; thereby preventing these memes from dominating ones psyche and controlling ones mind. Thereby allowing one to perceive, experience and comprehend ones reality in an unconditioned manner, not distorted by memetic filtering and agenda based preconceptions. Only then can one hope to approach the Truth.
Empirical agendas are inevitably based upon delusions of some kind; regardless of how much truth they may attempt to accommodate they still operate entirely within the empirical world constructed by our limited perceptions and beliefs. Pragmatism is defined within the context of an agenda; what is pragmatic is determined solely by the demands of ones agenda. Many people approach the world through a pragmatic mind set and to a large extent this is necessary for the day to day continuance of life but it is a double edged sword because truth is not pragmatic, truth is what it is. Often in the context of a delusional agenda the truth will seem dangerous, ridiculous or meaningless. To surrender to truth is to be open to radical change brought about by the light of truth, pragmatism is to sacrifice truth in favour of the continuance of ones present agendas. Therefore pragmatism traps us in our present delusions and shuts the door on potential avenues of learning, growth and harmony. Both are required because truth cannot always be reliably grasped so pragmatism prevents us from being tossed about by every passing ideological fad but it also makes us resistant to the truth when it does become accessible.
If you tell a man from a misogynistic society that women are inherently equal they will recite all kinds of myths about the supposed weakness and stupidity of women to justify their oppression. If you tell a person from a colonial civilisation built upon the exploitation of dark skinned races that these people are inherently equal they will manage to fob off any arguments and cling to their prejudice. If you tell a capitalist that property is theft from the world they will laugh at you. If you tell a materialist that reality IS virtual and that it is all information flowing within an underlying computational process they will think that you are living in denial of the most obvious 'facts' such as solidity. And so on in countless other scenarios just as extreme and also far more subtle; every moment of our lives every one of our perceptions and experiences is being distorted by our agendas.
A pragmatist's mind is geared to perceive, believe and think only that which is pragmatic within their current context. If the misogynist patriarchal society accepted the truth it would have to be totally re-organised, if the colonial civilisation accepted the truth its whole economy would be jeopardised, if the capitalist society accepted the truth it could no longer allow the rampant exploitation and appropriation of the world by capitalist entities and if the materialist accepted the truth they would have to re-think their entire concept or reality and re-evaluate everything that they have ever known about themselves and their world.
For those who dwell in delusion and build whole worlds of delusion, the truth is something to be handled with extreme care. Some truths may further one in the pursuit of ones agenda and these are to be sought out but other truths may undermine the very foundation of ones agenda and these are to be shunned or hidden or belittled.
For example, if one tries to discuss some of the many draw backs of the capitalist system with a pragmatic capitalist they will instantly become defensive and will often attempt to stifle the discussion with a statement much like “well this is the best system we have so far, so unless you've got a better idea you should just accept it”. They think this is a good comeback but it just exposes the pitfall of the pragmatic mind set; they are essentially saying “unless you can give me a complete pragmatic alternative that is obviously better in the context of my current agenda I'm not even going to think about the details of the current system, I will just cling to that system with a closed mind and work that system to my pragmatic advantage”. And no doubt the present system has a vested interest in preventing people from questioning its underlying principles, it conditions people toward blind acceptance so that it is protected from any truths that may jeopardise its present dominance. But unless people seriously think about the draw backs and explore the possibilities there will be no major growth and advancement; we will remain trapped in old systems because people are unable or unwilling to open up to truth.
To the best of my knowledge capitalism is an important component of the best workable pragmatic system that we have so far; it provides a useful medium of exchange and in many cases provides a low level distributed motivating force that causes many things to be done that would otherwise be neglected but it also causes many things to be done that should not be done and it is light years from perfect and has serious and potentially lethal drawbacks. Unless we address these in a rational and intelligent manner capitalism may eventually be a major cause of the extinction of all life on this planet. It is like a shot of steroids for the innovative process of human cultural evolution and if used in uncontrolled doses may lead to uncontrolled growth leading to irreversible collapse of the underlying support systems. Pure capitalism isn't a viable option, it is not a diet in itself, it may be an ingredient in the optimal solution but only by seriously exploring the possibilities can we discover the optimal combination of conceptual ingredients.
An agenda creates a conflict of interest, where even if people have a desire for the truth there are still subtle distortions in their minds that prevent them from being able to grasp the truth. This is a common problem for scientists who are purportedly engaged in seeking truth but who are more involved in maintaining and developing a process that has the side effect of sometimes uncovering truths. Too often they are guided more by research grant opportunities or political infighting or career opportunities and so on, thus they tend to dwell mainly in shallow waters and do not delve deeply into the nature of reality, although some do manage even amidst all the disturbances. To be able to seek the deepest truths of existence one must sacrifice all worldly agendas; this is the path of renunciation and is a necessary preparation if one is to become one who is capable of experiencing the truth in its purity and totality. This does not mean that one ceases to participate in the world; one must act in order to exist and besides, to deliberately renounce action is itself an empirical agenda. The meaning of renunciation is more subtle than this. It means to be what one IS, to be ones transcendent Self which is the cosmos; to be transparent to the will of the cosmos as it flows through one. It is the universe that acts through us, it is not we who act; when one is ones transcendent Self it is the universe that acts but when one is ones empirical self one is ultimately a fictional character within a fictional story that is masquerading as truth. We all have our paths to tread and many lives are spent playing the game of forgetfulness of Self but one should be aware that ones grasp of the truth will vary in proportion to the hold that ones egoic agendas and desires have over ones mind. Then one can better avoid spiraling into delusion and falling into conflict with reality and thereby creating suffering for ones self and ones world.
Due to the nature of the evolutionary algorithm we human animals are by nature very pragmatic within the context of our limited agendas; in general we do not take risks with truth unless forced to. This has served us adequately in the past when we dwelt in deep ignorance but as our knowledge grows we are better able to explore with our minds and to look around rather than grope in the dark; we can better comprehend the nature of our wider context. Furthermore, our power has increased so our need for wisdom is much greater, else we may destroy ourselves out of ignorance. If we wait each time until disaster strikes before accepting the truth of a situation we will simply bounce from one disaster to another and leave behind us a trail of unnecessary devastation. For example, must we wait until the earth becomes virtually uninhabitable before we begin to seriously address the ecological catastrophe that is unfolding due to so called progress; there are many who are waking up to the impending catastrophe but still, on the whole our societies largely behave as if there was nothing to worry about except rising prices for resources such as oil; the adrenalin has yet to kick in and we have yet to viscerally realise the immanence of the problem..
Related: metaphysical ideas in other people's work.