Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

Limitedness in Epistemology

Originally posted on August 18, 2012

I have been lucky enough to encounter a fair number of deep philosophers who consider the way the world is, and I have also developed my notions. Beyond the contents of the notions or myths or theories about which I guarantee you we can never know, there is the problem of epistemology: i.e., how do we know what we know?

We need to add to the problem of knowledge what we’ve been learning about depth psychology and subjectivity: It’s all so unbelievably complex that there’s no way that anyone ever believes what someone else believes, no matter how compelling, fully articulated that first teacher or philosopher may be. The true disciple may believe that what he believes is pretty much the same as what the teacher says and thinks, but a careful examination of the semantic associations, the nuances, the resonances, the implications of many of the concepts begin to show cracks, subtle differences.

The mind is no less complicated than a grain of sand, and when you get several trillion atoms mixed up, it doesn’t take a genius to say that the exact precise arrangement of those atoms will be absolutely different in a trillion trillion ways and more, because in that one atom out of trillions that have these three contaminating other types of atom will—you can bet your bippy—have them placed in different locations!

In that same sense, any philosopher, guru, teacher, sage, parent, prophet, whatever, will never, ever be able to communicate the full depth of intuitions, because mind is one of those fields where complexities mount even more than in the seemingly material world. Nuances, word-meanings, associations—these are only the surface ripples of depths in the subconscious that can barely be discerned. A careful venture into the mind reveals halls of mirrors, dissolving illusions, layers of clarity that are again transcended, and all this is amplified with every microgram of psychedelic sensitivity.

A corollary of this is that there are many things this is true about—patriotism, love, death, and so forth, but above all, ultimate reality. There folks are speculating on the legends others tell—sometimes believing them quite literally—though that strong belief doesn’t make them true for others not so compelled from with. But mix this with the art of interpretation—“hermeneutics”— and the actual individuality of minds: I’ve become quite convinced that there’s no way in heaven that human minds can ever fully grasp the greatness of reality.

It’s not that we shouldn’t speculate if we can’t know for sure. I have another myth-theory that God loves philosophy! In this myth God doesn’t even appreciate the half of what “She” is about;  It’s not about applauding an ultimately “right answer” so much as enjoying yet another interesting variation, like hearing yet another good piece of music.

Indeed, one of the functions of human consciousness is the growing recognition of the capacity to reflect on the glory of it all. (99.99999% of existence doesn’t have a glimmer that it exists, and 99.9% of those who do don’t have a glimmer of the idea that it exists within a whole universe that might care that it knows that we all exist!)

Thus we serve the Manifesting Everything (one of my innumerable names for God) by making up stories. No harm done, unless we start burning one another to death for not believing as we all do in our club / community.

Circling back, another implication of this all is that we will never be able to reach a consensus about what it’s all about, because a philosophy of “it” implies a fixed objective reality that we are trying to determine, however we may be analogous to the proverbial blind men and the elephant. It wouldn’t surprise me at all to shift perspective slightly and realize that part of the glory of it all is that our minds co-create it and are in turn co-created by it. That’s weird and mind-stretching, but once you get used to it, like swimming in cool but not cold water, it’s kind of fun.

What this says for philosophy is that we should relax in our efforts to pin down the meaning. We cannot help but seek meaning—it’s a drive as deep as seeking food or comfort or sex or whatever. Humans co-create meaning systems the way we co-create social structures, families, tribes. It’s part of our mind-social-matrix. But that doesn’t mean that meaning exists apart, cool, awaiting discovery. It is equally—no—more—probable that meaning is a co-created experience, an illusion of inter-subjectivity, like waves on the ocean, that yet offer structure for further imaginings.

Nor is meaning fixed; people tend to fix it, want to hold it, and thereby turn one person’s imaginings, speculations, insights, inspirations, into revealed truth. Pish tush, such truths are just created “mind farts.” Some are far more clever or evocative than others—that is, they work as memes, experienced as “good ideas” that may be the foundation for a delicious recipe, a beautiful song, a touching poem or a most useful tool. Some myths become memes that way.

In summary, let’s loosen up about the greedy-grabby illusion that we really gain by being “right.” It isn’t that way at all. Keep on philosophizing, but make it more like play. Enrich the meme field. It’s like great poetry, only in the form of rationally coordinated ideas—as Alfred North Whitehead noted at the end of his book, Modes of Thought.

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