Friday, March 13, 2009


Human knowledge is not what we think it is. We think of it as ‘truth’, but it is largely a fourfold confusion: abstract with concrete and general with particular.

The ego thrives on repetition and longs to be master of it, particularly of the repetition of pleasures. It searches tirelessly for the ‘universal’ and the ‘necessary’, since it believes that these two are features of the universe and not merely features of discourse. It believes implicitly in universality and necessity, because it can only conceive of grasping and then controlling what repeats itself predictably. The ego longs to be complete master of its own destiny, to be in a position to eliminate its pains and guarantee its pleasures forever.

The ego fancies that it is experiencing reality apart from itself, passively and as a pure observer devoid of properties of its own. This is of course a serious mistake because the ego constructs its experience as much as it receives it. Of course, there are events that one can distinguish from the ego. But for the ego, all events without exception are absolutely distinct from it; and this is not the case. The ego is part of the interconnected complex of events that we call ‘the universe’ and as such under their continuous influence. For the ego, events (the ‘non-me’) are ‘outside’ and it (the ‘me’) is ‘inside’ watching them. This is not so. The events are to a considerable extent shaped by interpretations; and the interpretations are constructions erected by the ego in order to maintain a certain mode of existence. Knowledge is not the exclusive possession of the ego, it is a feature of every level of the universe; but, to borrow an idea from Bohm, it is general and concrete: it is information. The electron is accompanied by a wave of potential that carries information about every system with which it interacts and ultimately about the universe as a whole. And more complex entities likewise operate according to complex waves of information concerning the systems of which they are parts and ultimately about the whole. Bohm calls this information ‘concrete general knowledge’. Human beings, too, are potentially so governed. ‘Potentially’, because they have the ability to interfere with the concrete general by means of language, by means of the ‘abstract’.  General concrete knowledge could be viewed as an aspect of the universal intelligence of which the ego is a part. This may well be the origin of what is called ‘intuition’. Neither the individual, nor the group has any ultimate control over the general concrete.


Apart from the general concrete, there is then what Bohm calls the ‘general abstract’, which is language. The vital thing to understand with respect to these different species of knowledge is that the general abstract is very frequently mistaken for the general concrete. What this means is that the abstract concept is put in the place of the event. Thus similar types of event are grouped under the same abstract concept; and once so grouped, they are treated as if they were identical. This is what we call ‘induction’. This is essentially the way the abstracting power of language works. We have words that designate abstract categories for events in which we have detected similarities. Now events are particulars and no two events are the same, for they are different events, despite the apparent similarities. But the ego imposes the same abstract category upon different events and pronounces them to be the ‘same’ event, literally the same event. Repetition means ‘the reproduction of the same event’. The ego believes that it espies repetitions of this sort everywhere in the world. From this perception of repetitions, the ego comes to the conclusion that fundamentally, the whole of reality is a matter of repetitions of one sort or another.


At that point, the ego then jumps to the inevitable conclusion: the essence of reality is a single repetition. Nouns designate ‘objects’, verbs ‘actions’, prepositions ‘relations’ etc. That is to say words capture repeated items that are the same as each other in some fundamental sense that is more important than any differences that one may detect. The ego believes that it captures repetitions of this sort everywhere in the world of particulars. The universal concepts that the ego uses, serve to denote this repetition in reality. Thus, there will always be the universal ‘tree’. There will always be the universal ‘oak’. There will always be the universals ‘leaf’, ‘branch’, ‘trunk’, ‘root’ and so on. From this categorisation and classification by means of language, the ego comes to the notion that what is repeated is universal. It then goes on to announce that what is universal is necessary, the result of laws that cannot be broken. It is only a small step from that notion to the grand conclusion that there is a single universal called ‘the universe’ and that that is a repetition of the essential characteristics of all that is, namely the laws of nature, and that those characteristics are necessary, that is, they have to happen. This means, simply, that the ‘laws of nature’ coincide in some ill-understood way with the ‘laws of thought’. The ego does not know quite in what way they coincide and prefers not to think about this subject. But the long-term ambition of the rational ego is not only to discover the ultimate laws of nature, but also to demonstrate that those laws are logically necessary. The demonstration that those laws are logically necessary would then be the final step in the ego’s achievement of control. What the ego does not realise is that this entire drift in its inner processes is the result of combinations of ideas that are altogether illegitimate. There is nothing to guarantee that the logical laws of discourse that so impress the ego should not also be falsifying and distorting its picture of reality. The ego wants to believe that logic governs both mind and world; but it does not pause to reflect that it may be deluding itself and indulging in a pipe-dream.


Let us admit that there is a universe, and that within that universe, events (even so-called ‘things’ are events) appear to repeat themselves: suns rise, seasons come and go, plants and animals (which humans group under single abstract concepts) appear and die and reappear, men and women appear to live lives that have fundamentally similar characteristics and so on. We can admit all of that and yet deny that what we have here is in any way a series of repetitions. But the impulse of the human animal is to call them repetitions and put a name to what they deem to be a repetition. Thus we arrive at all the concepts of our language, at those concepts that are universals and at those concepts that are sub-categories of the universal. But it should be evident to us – whereas for the most part it is not – that there is a clear difference between the word, the abstract universal, and the event, the concrete, particular event that we connect with a similar, though distinct event, by means of the abstract universal. It should be evident to us because we connect the most disparate things to one universal by means of the concept ‘like’. Resemblance can never imply repetition, let alone identity. Identity means that when two items are pronounced to be identical we do not have two but only one. This problem arises from the fact that the abstract concept is always identical with itself and two identical abstract concepts are one. Two concrete events grouped under one abstract concept, however, remain two, though the differences that guarantee their separateness are ignored and even the similarities are extensively determined by our inability to detect the differences.


The concrete general is the information that assures stability in the processes of nature and order in the universal flow; but this stability is not repetition, it is the generation of similarity mixed with difference. Only the difference, however, is ‘real’ i.e. concrete, for the flow of the universe makes its configuration entirely fresh from one moment to the next; the similarity is the result of the comparisons made by our memory and is purely abstract. No two events or entities are ever identical, for if they were they would be one and not two. Events are similar; and that similarity is an inner relatedness that the mind grasps intuitively, just as it grasps family resemblances. The abstract concept, the word, denotes an exact repetition, an identical reconstruction of events or entities. ‘Identical’ means ‘indistinguishably the same’ i.e., there is literally no difference at all between the first and all subsequent repetitions. Thus fundamentally, in the notion of repetition, we are not dealing with separate events, but with a single event. The ego desires that everything that repeats itself be repeated necessarily, because it wants every apparent separate event of a given category to be indistinguishable from every other instance of that event.


That this is patently not the case is seen from the fact that we group clearly different events under the same universal – e.g. ‘tree’ – and then begin to fine tune the universality of our concepts with qualifying adjectives, that in turn become nouns, ‘beech-tree’, ‘oak-tree’, ‘ash-tree’ and so on. So the ego imagines that in pursuing this fine tuning to every finer levels of detail, it will come on the ultimate repetitions, the ultimate ‘things’ that constitute reality, the fundamental ‘particles’. Insofar as we follow the dictates of the ego, we fail to realise that this search is motivated by a delusion and we fail to notice that the search will always throw up examples of what it is a search for, because reality, the concrete, is perceived through the lens of the abstract; and the abstract is thereby mistaken for the concrete. In the concrete, there are only particulars. It was this insight and the absurdity of the identical particle view that brought Leibniz to his theory of monads, i.e. to the belief that the ultimate constituents of the universe are unique, mindlike particulars (‘monads’) of vastly varying complexity, and not identical objects.


If we could experience molecules, atoms, sub-atomic particles, strings, or whatever, directly, we would perceive them as similar particulars upon which we would then impose the abstract category and pronounce them all the same. Since we cannot experience such particles directly, we feel entitled to pronounce them all the same anyway, even to the extent of regarding them as abstract points. Every particle of a given class is identical with every other in the same class, there is no distinction. We fail to notice in this pronouncement that this belief commits us to the view that there is not a multiplicity of particles of one type, but only one, for indiscernibles are identical and identical means precisely that: literally the same and not plural but singular. So the designation ‘electron’ is not a universal, after all, any more than ‘tree’; it is a particular just as ‘Albert Einstein’ is a particular. So we have a paradox: the universal is the particular. How can every supposed ‘individual’ electron, ‘actually’ be the same individual? The possibility that there are no universal properties not being acceptable, what is the resolution of this paradox?


The answer to this is found in the ego’s constant confusion of the abstract general with the concrete general. The abstract general is a repetition, the concrete general is not. Of course the abstract general is able to pronounce its constructions to be the same, to be identical, for there is only one construction applied to different cases. But the ego, despite its wishes, cannot pronounce the concrete general to be composed of identical items or events, because the universe repeats nothing, neither electron, nor snowflake nor man. It rather changes seamlessly and constantly, exhibiting stabilities that are not repetitions, but rather, like the flame, dynamic systems of stable change. There is a linguistic sense in which all flames or all clouds are the same; but no-one would dream of pronouncing one flame or cloud to be a repetition of another. It is the same with sub-atomic particles: what appear to be repetitions are not; the differences simply escape us because of the grossness of our sensory-cognitive apparatus. The universe is a perpetually unique configuration and upon this constantly unique configuration, the ego imposes its repetitions, its universals and its ‘necessity’. There is nothing wrong with abstract knowledge; it enables all our technology. The only thing wrong is the confusion of the abstract with the concrete.


The confusion is evident in our technology. Our technological inventions are instantiations, we think, of the abstract principles of the world. But this is not so. They are instantiations of the abstractions of the mind; and both are made by us. The abstract motor-car or moon-rocket will go on functioning perfectly for all eternity. The individual, concrete motor-car or moon-rocket breaks down or wears out or otherwise malfunctions as concrete factors begin to operate that we had not included in the abstract model. We deal with this tension between the abstract technological item and the concrete by means of ‘improvement’. That is to say, we increase the power of the abstraction to encompass more and more detail. We imagine that we are homing in on the reality and will arrive at it one day; whereas in actual fact, we are simply including more and more abstract detail in the abstraction.


Realities are realities and words are words and the former will never be the equivalent of the latter, function like the latter or be manipulable like the latter. In the course of ‘improvement’ the technological item gets further and further away from its starting point and becomes obviously what it always was, namely a new concrete in its own right, in which we begin to espy new ‘universals’ and new ‘necessities’. What has happened is that the cosmos as a whole has changed, a new reality has appeared. There is no repetition here at all, only the process of constant creative innovation. The abstract general grows out of the concrete general; and we manipulate the world with its aid.


We could call our access to the concrete general ‘immediate awareness’, but that would not exhaust all of the features of the concrete general. The concrete general includes every aspect of our immediate awareness that is largely ‘unconscious’ to the ego but that nevertheless governs how the ego perceives. The abstract general is the reflection of a particular aspect of the concrete general encoded in various media. It is an aspect of the collective consciousness of the moment that becomes frozen into a particular configuration of the particular medium in which it is encoded. It is temporary and artificial consensus (which means ‘sensing together’). This is a vital process by means of which the concrete general is differentiated, made more complex and rendered active. Nevertheless to overlook the distinction between the concrete general and the abstract general is to commit a cardinal category error that is heavy with portentous consequences, such as dogmatism and persecution. The fundamental difference between the two is this: the abstract (reason) repeats itself, the concrete (nature) does not.


The ego is an aspect of the concrete general and yet it abstracts itself from this by means of the abstract general. The ego does something remarkable in this: it views itself as both distinct from and the same as the abstract general. When it views itself as the same as the abstract general, it pronounces itself to be determined, as it would have to, since it is no more than the sum of its repetitions. Yet it abstracts itself from this abstraction by considering itself to be without properties, a pure no-thing and by that strategy it is able to lift itself from the cycle of repetitions and therefore from the realm of determinism. This ‘doublethink’ is the means by which the individual ego preserves its free will while insisting on the determinism of all things. The ego is a unique particular that has no universal, no necessity attached to it. The illogicality of this procedure is preserved intact and overlooked because all egos do the same thing. Nevertheless, it is the concrete general that governs the whole process after all. The ego is a function of this concrete general and an inseparable part of the universal process. There is in fact no such stable thing as ‘definitive abstract knowledge’. There is only the concrete general and the concrete particular and the concrete general generates the concrete particular, whether it be electron or man. There is only the universal process of order, i.e. relative and temporary stability, generated from what is not order, not temporal and not stable. The universal light that contains the information for all possible actuality actualises itself first in the paradoxical wave-particle. From that first actualisation follow all the other actualisations collectively known as the universe, but the connection between the universe as actualisation and the universal unactualized light is never lost.


Humanity is a function of the concrete general. This function is the true human knowledge. This knowledge is not a function of humanity. Only the abstract general is a function of humanity. The whole of nature is co-ordinated by an information content that is a kind of knowledge. The animals cannot function without knowledge. They use inductive generalisations just as we do. The difference between human and non-human animals is that the former have linguistic concepts which are a means of making conscious aspects of the concrete general. We have concepts, but reality determines those concepts and not the concepts’ reality. Concepts reflect something of reality, but they also distort it. The most serious distortions come from the repetitious nature of the concepts. Nature’s ‘repetitions’ are either strikingly different or so subtly different that the difference is undetectable by us, but they are different. There are no mechanisms in nature, for mechanisms are ideal abstract machines that correspond to nothing in nature.


Poor old Nietzsche was totally confused on the subject of repetition. He concluded from the philosophy of mechanism – and quite rightly so – that if the universe is a gigantic machine, then it has to repeat itself an infinite number of times. And yet he was apparently committed to the notion of Heraklitean flux, according to which everything flows and nothing remains the same from one moment to the next. If the universe is a machine, then the change is only apparent and nothing changes for the repetition is a form of changelessness. But he was unable to see that our concepts do not determine reality, reality determines our concepts. We are misled by the regularity of nature which is not repetition to imagine that nature repeats herself. From this we develop universal, necessities and mechanisms. In fact there is nothing of the sort in nature. So the lesson is this: we must hold our mechanisms lightly for if we do not, they end up possessing us, we become literally ‘possessed’ and therefore mad.


The problem of change remains, however, if we do away with our mechanisms and with the notion that nature repeats herself. It would seem that something must remain stable if change is to be coherent and not merely random. The question then arises, what guarantees the stability within the flux of nature if it is not repetition, let’s say, of rules? The answer to this must be found in the extent to which nature is a totality and functions as a totality, a complete, intelligent whole and not a collection of separate insensate things. Nature changes as a whole and the parts change as the whole changes. The distinction between the parts and the whole must in the end be false and unsustainable. So what guarantees the coherence of the whole is not the rigid mechanism, the repetition, it is the intrinsic coherence of the whole. But if the essence of the whole is change, what guarantees its coherence if not a mechanism? Why does the whole not simply degenerate into chaos if its order is not founded in repetition? The answer to this must be in the information-content of the whole, which is equivalent to the intelligence of the whole. It is the information-content of the parts that relates them to the whole and ensures that they change as it changes. We say the ‘intelligence’ of the whole rather than the ‘information-content’ of the whole, because the phrase ‘information-content’ implies to us something abstract and static, whereas the universe is concrete and dynamic.  The essence of the whole is change, coordinated change; and that sort of coordination, if it is not the result of the repetition of identical processes can only be guaranteed by what we call ‘intelligence’. The whole has to be intelligent, since its coordinating power is greater than any particular rules that may apply to any one particular snap-shot of its ceaseless change. Of course, this intelligence could not be like human intelligence, for human intelligence is governed by the system in which it has relevance and purpose, i.e. in the biosphere of this planet. The notion of an intelligence that governs the entire universe is a conception that must be purely ideal and ultimately incomprehensible to us. But since all parts of the universe are coordinated, analogies with our own intelligence are not necessarily misleading.


So here we have the unity in the quarternity of foreworld, hindworld, midworld and hyperworld, the connection between the four worlds of matter, mind, language and the mysterious totality that generates it all. We have also the connection with the ego and with universal intelligence. Within this overall scheme of things, there clearly cannot be some absolute ‘truth’ that we can write down in the language of men. There can only be the ultimate truth of the entire dynamic information-content of the entire universe and its ceaseless change; and that would seem to be beyond our grasp. Our abstract knowledge, that the ego sees as knowledge tout court is a function of the background knowledge of the universe itself. Every system in the universe is governed by its own particular knowledge and the human race is no exception. We are determined by our knowledge, by the collective consciousness of the species and we express a tiny proportion of that knowledge in language. We then elevate that linguistic knowledge to some sort of absolute validity and get ourselves into a serious muddle.


As Heraklitus knew, one can only enunciate a so-called ‘truth’ if one at the same time asserts its opposite. Reality is paradoxical like that and based upon a tension of opposites. The truth about the universe itself is the active information-content of the universe as a whole and this includes all the information about all the tensions, ambiguities, dualities and paradoxes that are intrinsic to a process that is fundamentally in conflict with itself. The nature of reality is conflict. That is why it changes ceaselessly. To think therefore that we are going to capture the entire truth about the entire cosmos in a definitive body of propositions in some human language is to be the naive victims of a massive delusion. The theory of determinism, since its character arises in abstract knowledge, is nonsensical. It is clearly time we ditched this particular delusion and evolved a more realistic understanding of our knowledge: it is always provisional and could never be otherwise.


Our human knowledge, our abstract general, sits within a vast web of mostly inchoate, mostly unarticulated attitudes, emotions, habits, tendencies that form the tacit background to all our action and that are our stake in the concrete general. Our abstract knowledge acts upon this background and is in turn acted upon by it. The relation is two-way, but the abstract knowledge is the lesser partner. We need to understand that we function as whole beings, whether we like it or not. It is time that we decided to function consciously as whole beings rather than deluding ourselves into believing that we function on the basis of our abstract knowledge alone.


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