This is a book designed not to please. It is meant to raise questions, disturb norms, and encourage thinking in new directions. The present volume exhibits a relaxed and random selection of topics, brief in treatment and considering such subjects as observations on the subjective character of politics and political economy, the influence of institutional practices on spiritual life, the spiritual origin and character of mind, the relationship of science and mathematics to the limits of mind, and a philosophy of art. Most of the entries in this book were extracted from notes which were recorded when the author was teaching philosophy. Others were inspired by the same notes.
Democracy and the importance and limits of a life of reason:
WHAT is most important is the life of the spirit: a life of the emotions well regulated by the mind. But where emotion is given priority and the mind is made unclear, the emotions can be manipulated. Until this problem is solved, democracy will always fail.
HUMAN beings are compelled to live by reason. If they wish to live sensibly, they cannot do otherwise. But to live by reason is to know the limits of reason. That is the paradox.
REASON is a product of nature. But what is nature a product of? Can anyone measure it with reason to find this out? Can an eagle soar beyond the air which sustains it? This is not to disclaim the advances of science. It is only to insist that science is an ongoing adjustment of humanity to the intellectual limits of the human condition. It is not a path towards absolute truth.
TRUTH is like the unbroken continuity of a mathematical line. It can never be partitioned with any degree of finality. There is always a nearer and nearer approach, but never a conclusive analysis.
TRUTH does not exist in intellectual terms. It is a point beyond the horizon of the human mind at which the mind always aims. But the mind will never get there. That is, truth will never be arrived at intellectually, though human sensibility—heart and will—may encompass it. Every theory, scientific or philosophical, ever devised by the mind of man, has fallen short of a comprehensive explanation of experience.…
PHILOSOPHICAL systems come and go. All of man’s attempts at systematizing are mere templates placed upon the face of reality. In the end they must fail. But each such attempt creates new insights which are carried on into the next such attempt. It is in this way that human beings progress in conceptual understanding: by a rearranging of the elements of knowledge under new systems of insight.
THE goal: to find an explanation of consciousness which will provide a foundation for spirituality and will be grounded in material nature without becoming mechanistic.
Spirit as universal consciousness:
THE concept of physical time is practically and experientially effective. But from a transcendental perspective, it is a superficial confection of the senses and the material mind.
…A PERSON and her world are one. But they do not appear to be. For, though consciousness as such is one and indivisible, the content of consciousness is an unveiling through time which causes a person to see herself in terms of that content. In this way, she experiences herself incrementally in such a manner that the future appears to be hidden from the present moment. Moreover, the past presents itself as an accumulation, which is dead in activity.
But time, which appears to be incremental in its development of this view, is not incremental as an expression of spirit. As an expression of spirit, it is like the purity of simple consciousness in that it does not begin or end or have a middle. Time and spirit are one: unlimited, indivisible, a unity.
But in the immediate character of its presentation of finite experience to human awareness, time, or spirit, exhibits the whole of that experience in an order. It is an order which is not a sequence. For it is presented as a unity. Yet it is this order which is “read off” incrementally by human awareness in the form of sequential time, thus generating a past, present, and future.
So it is that a material world undergoing change is brought to bear upon a human sensibility.…
THERE is no such thing as energy. There is only change and the quantitative expression of change. What is needed is a theory of mind which makes sense of this fact.
THE dynamic of spirit is neither determinate nor indeterminate. It is change without reference to anything but itself. Such change is not an expression of physical energy. For physical energy is a creation of the human mind designed to account for physical change. But there is no stasis, no point of reference by which to proclaim the origin, character, or existence of spiritual change.
The dynamic of spirit is infinite in the sense that it is not finite. Metaphorically speaking, change in the dynamic is all change conceived at once, without passage of time. Thus no single change or set of changes can be specified. Nevertheless, in material terms, time and space are experienced and conceived as a continuum—a continuum in which points of reference have meaning. They are a continuum within which and in terms of which limited change is observed by human faculties.
In the spiritually dynamic state, unlimited and unspecified change is the fabric from which space and time are flung, like gossamer threads. Material reality, exhibited as present and past in human experience, is this emanation. It is an emanation projected within human awareness. Though it appears to be determinate, it originates in the spiritual dynamic.…
Consciousness and Mind:
THERE are no distinct increments in change. One may choose a frame of an event and compare it to another frame of the same event. But change, like time, is seamless. The frames are arbitrary isolations of phenomena.
CAUSAL thinking and the power of making logical transitions in thought both have their origin in consciousness. Consciousness, therefore, should be understood to be more than a backdrop for experience or a passive participant in experience. It is an integral part of human experience. For it enters into the human thinking capacity as a means of understanding experience.
This is to say that consciousness is not simply experience itself. Nor is it a passive receptacle upon which the events of experience are registered. It is active. For it enters indirectly into the apprehension of experience under the guise of an intuition of simple unity. This intuition is not consciousness itself.
Rather, it is derived from the experience of pure consciousness. This is to say that the intuition of simple unity is a product of consciousness experiencing itself as a simple unity. Thus, when the mind focuses on a set of mental phenomena, the intuition provides a basis for an experience of the unity of those phenomena.
From this mental foundation, the human capacity to unify, subdivide, and classify is derived. In other words, an intuitive apperception of unity among mental phenomena, which is both limited and modified by means of a shifting of mental focus, leads to a recognition that more limited unities may be encompassed by larger unities and that larger unities may be subdivided into more limited unities. It is this simple insight which provides the mind with a starting point for classification.
But because the mind thinks linearly, it often fails to notice this. To say that A = B and B = C, therefore A = C, is to say that A, B, and C refer to the same unity. Without an underlying sense of unity, such thinking would not be possible. For A, B, and C are unities which are brought into further unity with one another. Also, to say that A causes B, or again to state the proposition, if A then B, is to assert that the unities, or classifications, A and B are individually fixed within a greater unity which is the causal or propositional statement.
Thus there is a unity underlying either statement. Both of these statements, as statements, are based on the intuition of unity. The entire statement is a unity. Accordingly, both statements are (by indirect means of the intuition) founded on the experience of that simple, indivisible unity which is pure consciousness. Pure consciousness is consciousness without consideration of its content.…
Science’s Origin in Mind:
THERE is a curious recurrence in physical science. A component of the formula for the surface area of a sphere (A = 4 π r2), which is radius squared (or distance squared), appears more than once in scientific relations. For example, there is the inverse square in Newton’s law of universal gravitation (F ~ m1 m2 / r2). And it appears again in Coulomb’s law of electrical force (F ~ q1 q2 / r2).
So it would seem that the implied conception of space, as extended from any particular point of reference, bears a relationship to the idea of an expanding spherical surface. For, given the inverse square, the greater the distance, the larger the spherical surface a particular force must be distributed over.
What is of interest is that the distribution of a force calculated from some point to another in all directions, all such directions being equal and thus equivalent to radii, would describe the area of the surface of a sphere. This may seem too obvious to deserve mention. But its interest lies in what it reveals about the human mind’s role in both the perception and conceptualization of space. It appears that the limits of the human mind are inevitably involved in the mind’s discoveries concerning the physical world.
ART is precise in being imprecise. This peculiar balance is what makes it art. In fact, its craftsmanship, which is important, lies in a precise delicacy of imprecision. So does its philosophy, its deep seeing, which is equally important. The philosophy is understood without overt articulation.
Take a literary work, such as a story. What this precise delicacy of imprecision does is allow an image, character, situation, or combination of these, to play loosely in the mind. It permits, indeed insists upon, a multiplicity of interpretation, yet within a specific framework. Thus the mental play is subtly directed in such a way that each suggestion in the mind leads to another suggestion, causing a forward movement of the action.
THE world’s great religions are immersed in a struggle for power over men’s behavior. This is particularly true of the Semitic religions. The problem is that this attempt to control behavior becomes a preoccupation with moral codes. The particular moral code in question is made equivalent to the will of God.
But morality cannot be made equivalent to spirit, lest spirit be placed in a position of self-contradiction. How can spirit lead men to commit no murder and yet send them into war (as occurs in the Hebrew scriptures)? Again, many Christians once viewed slavery as acceptable. Now they do not.
A conception of spirit must lie beyond the moral codes people live by, which codes are ever-changing and evolving. A transcendent deity is moral precisely in the sense that it is beyond, that it transcends the divisive and conflicting relations of humanity. Spirit is approached, not for the particular, momentary view, but for the larger, inclusive, eternal relation of things about which human understanding is ever growing in experience.
George Lowell Tollefson, a former philosophy professor, lives in New Mexico and writes on the subject of philosophy.