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Sunday, May 12, 2013

Another Philosophical Interlude

My philosophical interlude a couple of days ago was stimulated by Jim Holt's Why Does the World Exist? He and we wrestled with something from nothing. One of the answers we considered was: you can't have something without nothing--or, as it turns out, nothing without something.

How do we know this? By examining our human existence (Dasein--where Sein or Being appears). Sartre called existence néant, nothing. Things in the world become only through nothing; i.e. in the words of evolutionary psychology, symbolic activity aware of itself cuts the world into things through words, gestures, images and other symbols. But human existence itself is not a thing because it is the objectifying act that denies the objectifying of itself. The thing or being is what has been symbolized, but not the symbolizing act of consciousness--which is not a thing; it is no-thing.

Lonergan makes a distinction that I think is helpful between notion and concept. A concept is an objectification of a thing, the word spoken (parole parlée), the symbol that fashions a reality. A notion is the word-in-the-speaking (parole parlante); it is the symbolic activity transparent to itself in all its intentionality, i.e. as it tends to reality through the use of symbols, words, icons. So you can have a notion of existence, consciousness, spirit, god, but not a concept of them. The concept points to something. The notion points to nothing. The concept if verified explains something. The notion if verified explains nothing.

Ha! Take that in your pipe and smoke it. I promise you a high experience or, better, the experience of a high.

Carry on! Beliefs are in the dimension of concepts. Faith (hope and love, too) is in the dimension of notions. And so with faith, we believe in nothing. Without faith or with bad faith, we believe in things. Let your beliefs go, and you will have faith; you will be more fully conscious; you will be in touch with the nothingness of existence by which you transcend all beliefs and stretch to infinity.

Now I know this sounds pretty weird. Certainly paradoxical in the root meaning of the word: Para=beyond; dox=belief. A Zen koan? Words of mystics? Yes.

I am nothing. I believe in nothing.
We are nothing. I believe in nothing.
God is nothing. I believe in nothing.
The world and filled with somethings. I believe in some things.
All my beliefs are transitory. I need to transcend them in faith.
In faith, I believe in nothing, not even something.

Well, meditate it. I assure you it makes sense. Or is it nonsense?


Another answer to the mystery of being is the Hindu (and other eastern thought) answer that reality is an illusion. We are all characters in the dream of Vishnu. The more modern scientific parallel to this is that the universe, including us, is a hologram formed by bits of information. The Beatles sang that "we all live on a yellow submarine." Well, maybe "we all play in a rainbow holodeck." Nothing really exists.

So go play and have fun!

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