Empirical Metaphysics and Physics:
Common Conceptual Foundations
Dr. Leon James
This article represents my ideas from a perspective of Eastern nonduality
combined with atheistic science. In 1981 I discovered the Writings of
Swedenborg. From then on all my articles were written from a dualist perspective
and a theistic framework. See this directory of my theistic science articles in
The purpose of this is to provide a coherent abeam of discourse, an account, that will serve as a context that will give meaning to the following statement:
The death of Man must follow the death of God.
I begin by stating three points that I wish to establish: (1) that there is such a thing as empirical metaphysics whose empiricism can be characterized in the same terms as the empiricism of the 'scientific disciplines', i.e. that they share a common conceptual foundation; (2) that the concept of "liberation", as discussed by Alan Watts2 in his commentaries on Zen Buddhism and Taoism, can be given a proper conceptual status in a theory pertaining to empirical metaphysics and which I shall call The Metaphysics of Nothingness; and (3) that the conceptual foundations of empirical metaphysics and physics are non-trivially different from religious conceptions.
The notion "reality" cannot be elaborated upon without considering the notion "consensus". I wish to distinguish between two types of consensus: ordinary and special.3 By "ordinary consensus" I mean to refer to the case where consensus or agreement between two or more parties is attained because the parties involved take the content of the agreement to be self-evident and needing no justification. "Special consensus'. refers to the case where attainment of consensus is problematic and is the result of a successful process of justification presented by one party to another. For instance, if A wishes to validate interactionally (socially) that a fact of reality is that the sun rises in direction X, not Y. he merely has to make that statement to 8 under appropriate conditions (e.g. at dawn) without having to provide any justification. The social validity of reality statements like "The Sun rises in the East" rests on "ordinary consensus. and needs no "proof". The social validity of reality statements like the second law of thermodynamics (e.g. "Entropy in the Universe increases") rests on a "special consensus" that is attained after a very elaborate process of justification (e.g. the science curriculum in formal education). Scientific disciplines, particular religions, theories of practical ethics, brotherhoods, and the like, are associated with conceptual systems, accounts whose social validation rests on the successful attainment of special consensus about reality, a task that is usually accomplished after a period of arduous training or apprenticeship.
The distinction between ordinary and special consensus is relative. For instance, an individual born and raised in a religious community of a particular sect will be able to validate a statement, Z. by ordinary consensus (i.e. he will see it as self-evident truth), while special consensus is needed for the validation of that statement by a second individual who was born and raised outside that community. All processes of social validity ultimately rest on special consensus, the consensus of "socialization" in any particular community or family unit. "ordinary consensus" is thus a particular instance of special consensus.
I am primarily concerned in this essay not with Reality (undefined, ultimate), but with accounts of reality (including the notion 'discovery') and their relation to the nature of consensus.4 Now I wish to argue that the account of reality given by the special consensus of physics (and scientific disciplines generally) is based on a set of premises whose social validity rests ultimately on ordinary consensus. 5
Statements about reality that physicists make, such as those referring to inertia, entropy, relativity, and so on, are validated by the special consensus of the scientific, experimental method with its associated conditions of measurement and data collection. The social validity of the latter, however, rests on the ordinary consensus of human observation (e.g. a reading on a calibrated measuring instrument or the observation of the presence or absence of an event). Thus some aspects of Einstein's theory of relativity are validated by an experiment on the speed of light (special consensus), which in turn is validated by the displacement of a needle on an instrument (ordinary consensus). The two processes together constitute part of the special consensus of physics (i.e. both that the speed of light is relevant to relativity and that a reading on an instrument is relevant to the speed of light).
Statements about reality found in metaphysical accounts are validated by the special consensus of philosophical inquiry (e.g. propositional logic), but unlike statements in physics, none of their premises can be given social validation through ordinary consensus. For instance, in the struggle represented by man's search for meaning, neither the goal of the traineeship ("liberation," "serenity,. "self-actualization,. "seeing,' and so on) nor the operative procedures involved (''Upaya,'' "discipline," "Mediation," "experiential movement,. and so on) can be shown to have relevance by ordinary consensus. In other words, the operative procedures involved in these instances derive their special meaning which is different from their pseudo-counterparts in language) from the nature of the goals, and these in turn have a special meaning, not accessible by ordinary consensus.
A necessary and sufficient characteristic of empiricism is routine social validation or verifiability through consensus. Accounts based on prophecy, personal revelation, Grace, and so on, are not subject to routine social validation and, hence, are not empirical in nature. I use "routine social validation" in the definitional statement because I mean to exclude cases of successful validation that are extraordinary, such as the account of Jehovah revealing Himself contemporaneously to both Moses and Aaron, or to both David and Samuel. An account of Joint revelation by Grace to a number of people contemporaneously, whether in Biblical episodes or at revival meetings, refer to an extraordinary process, not routinely verifiable by human social consensus (except by another extraordinary process). A consideration of these types of accounts is beyond the limits of the present inquiry.
For an account to be empirical, it must specify a particular operative procedure for the routine verification of the statements that belong to it. In physics, this is accomplished by the attainment of a special consensus about facts that derive from ordinary consensus. Ultimately the completion by an individual of the steps specified by the operative procedure of the scientific, experimental method is ipso facto an instance of the requisite routine social validation which characterizes physics and its empiricism. I want to show that it is possible to give a metaphysical account of reality that will be such that it will specify a particular operative procedure for its verifiability as routine social validation, viz. that it will be an empirical account. I shall do this in the next section by prep- sensing an account, to be referred to as "The Metaphysics of Nothingness", and this account will be seen to be empirical in nature. At the moment, I would like to give a more general characterization of accounts about reality that belong to an empirical metaphysics. Criterion 1: The account must include an existential definition of "people" (Man, I, person, etc.). This requirement is equivalent to the necessity of the statement "There is a Universe" in physics. The function of criterion 1 will be properly understood if it is seen that
Universe : Physics = People : Empirical Metaphysics
This existential criterion is fundamental to an account of reality not only in the sense that it establishes the object of inquiry in the account, but also in that it justifies the existence of the account itself, which otherwise would remain problematic.
In different terms, the existential criterion has the result of excluding "Why-Questions" about the universe, man, life, etc. that purport to such things as "the ultimate purpose" and the like. The accounts in physics need not, and cannot, concern themselves with the purpose of the Universe, or the reasons for its particular properties, as they are, as opposed to what they might be. The accounts in empirical metaphysics need not, and cannot, concern themselves with people as they might be, or the reasons they are as they are (such as "in the image of" or "by the Grace of" God, the latter being an entity not describable within the account).
In still different terms, the existential criterion will insure that the account establishes a 'materialistic monism' (I prefer the term 'existential monism'). It thus specifically excludes dualistic doctrines that lead to distinctions such as mind-body, matter-spirit, Man-God, and the like.
Finally, the existential criterion serves to establish the distinction between "Making up facts" (i.e. mythical events, pseudo-facts) and "discovering facts". 6 Thus, it is not merely the case that "I think. Therefore I am", but nontrivially, "I am what I am because I am that way."
This will be elaborated in the next section. Criterion 2: The account must specify the proper operative procedure for attaining (special) consensus about reality that will allow for its routine social validation. This requirement excludes from empirical metaphysics accounts that require for their validation extraordinary or special conditions such as "by the Grace of God", mysterious talents such as prophecy, divination, extrasensory perception, being a "medium", and the like. The word "routine" in the criteria! statement is intended to have the following force: that the traineeship designed to impart the special consensus needed, be described in terms that render it an "operative", which is to say, a step-by-step description of the -cumulative procedures to be followed by the apprentice, and furthermore, that the completion by him of the steps specified in the operative procedure constitutes ipso facto the necessary and sufficient conditions for the attainment of the special consensus required for social validation of the account. Thus, although any particular apprentice may fail in his bid, his failure is not to be attributed to the lack of a special talent or the absence of some special condition not under the control of the operative procedure, but rather to, simply, his failure to complete the procedural steps specified due to ordinary shortcomings (death, sickness, fear, and the like).
It will be seen that the conditions for obtaining special consensus in accounts belonging to empirical metaphysics are linked to the existential monism given as criterion 1. To put the relationship in reverse terms, accounts in empirical metaphysics are verifiable routinely by an operative procedure that is possible and proper to the entity referred to as "people". Entities for whom the operative procedure is not possible or proper (i.e. "non-people") are excluded from the process of validation.
In physics, an equivalent relation exists in that any phenomenon or process not verifiable by the special consensus of the scientific, experimental method is not considered a real entity, i.e. a part of that which is included in the Universe. Criterion 3: The process referred to as "the discovery of reality" must be nothing more, nor less, than the performance of the Proper operative procedure.
One function of this requirement is to define the nature of "facts" in the account. No version of an account in empirical metaphysics can include any notion (term, concept, event, phenomenon, process, relation, etc.) not specified by the proper operative procedure.
Unlike religious accounts, the accounts in empirical metaphysics pertain to open systems, i.e. they are never complete. The proper operative procedure puts at the disposal of the apprentice a conceptual framework that allows him access to the facts of reality but it does not provide a list of all the discoverable facts. As a consequence, these accounts are always incomplete and problematic since it is never certain at any given time that the current account will be congruent with the discovery of new facts.
These three criteria, taken jointly, represent necessary and sufficient conditions for accounts in empirical metaphysics. I shall now present the essential features of the Metaphysics of Nothingness and show that my account satisfies all the criteria! conditions specified.
My account begins with an existential definition of "people", to wit: people are entities in reality that individually constitute a time-space continuum that serves as a detection device for Harmony. My intention in the use of the term "detection device" will be properly understood if it is seen that
Light bulb : electric current = People : Harmony
The relationship [People Harmon] is definitional, circular. It is intended that the two terms mutually imply each other, as specified by expression (1):
(1) People => Harmony
Harmony => People
The force of this assertion is intended to eliminate any problematic aspect to the experiencing or recognition of Harmony. The specific account (description) given for what constitutes Harmony is not crucial. It may variously take alternate descriptive forms as follows: Truth, Beauty, the Absolute, the Life-force, and so on. All of these are considered equivalent in that the apperception of Harmony, etc., is part of the definition of "people," man, etc. The proper conditions for the occurrence of the apperception of Harmony may be, however, and is, in most accounts, problematic. An equivalent relation exists in physics between the possibility of perceiving a fact of reality and the proper conditions for such an occurrence (e.g. that the curvature of Earth is directly perceivable is not problematic but the positioning of an observer who can realize that perception requires special circumstances).
The problematic nature of creating the proper conditions for the apperception of Harmony relates to the attainment of special consensus and the operative procedure that constitutes the apprenticeship. The notion of people being on-off detection devices for the presence of Harmony engenders the Basic Movement which is expressed by the following relation:
(2) Harmony -> Disharmony
The meaning of Basic Movement will have been properly understood if it is seen that
Basic Movement : Empirical Metaphysics = Entropy : Physics
Thus the notion "intelligent life," being a process that characterizes "people," is to be understood as a process made up of patterns of motion, the motion of the Basic Movement, the movement between Harmony - Disharmony, the oscillating on-off states of the human detection device. When this movement ceases, intelligent life ceases to exist, people are no more, reality is no more.
The existential definition of people given earlier insures that the Basic Movement takes place in physical time. At this point, the notion "detection device for Harmony" needs elaboration. I shall use the following expression to illustrate its essential feature:
(3) Apperception of Harmony => Discovery of Reality
This says that it is the process of discovering reality that constitutes the apperception of Harmony. "Reality" in the Metaphysics of Nothingness is established by the existential monism of the definition of "people". The relationship involved is of the reflexive type: reality is made up of the discoverable facts about people, the latter being at once the object of knowledge and the locus of the knowledge. The Basic Movement, therefore, is a movement whose pattern is about itself. It is a self-reflection. The characteristics of the pattern of the Basic Movement represents itself in the same sense that the wave-pattern of the Brownian Movement in physics represents the particular motion of atomic and molecular particles in the air.
In ordinary terms we might say that the discovery of reality is the discovery of the self, or self-discovery, and that the isolation of a fact engenders or is concurrent with the apperception of Harmony, the latter being a process in physical time. Its absence at any particular time, t, is the process of Disharmony, which is also an event in physical time. A man's "life time" is thus composed of a continuous series of movements from a state of Harmony to a state of Disharmony, and vice versa.
The Basic Movement can thus be described in both objective and subjective terms, so long as it is understood that the subjective account is a trivial extension or transformation of the objective account, the latter being primary. Man's search for meaning, for Truth, his striving for self-discovery and self-knowledge, are subjective accounts completely derivable from the objective account of the Basic Movement. The subjective account is to be viewed as a stylistic variation whose underlying meaning can not contain any novel notion outside the existential definition of "people" (such as "I,. "the subject," " the observer," etc.).
A subjective transformation of the objective description given in the earlier expressions pertaining to the Basic Movement can be given as follows:
(4) The attempt to resolve ----> The realization of its futility
The left hand side of this expression refers to the state of Disharmony, the right hand side, to the state of Harmony. Inasmuch as the Basic Movement reflects itself, the self-reflection of Disharmony is transformed, in a subjective account, into terms such as "attempt" or "struggle". When the movement, at time (t + 1), changes into Harmony, the subjective account will use such terms as "resolution of the struggle" or "self-fulfillment". Expression (4) asserts that the resolution of the search for meaning ("the attempt to resolve") is equivalent to the realization of the futility of the attempt. This is a non-trivial assertion and needs elaboration. It is this assertion that lends to the Metaphysics of Nothingness its distinctive characteristic and which distinguishes it from other possible empirical metaphysical accounts. This assertion has the status of a problematic fact about reality and needs special consensus for its social validation.
In Zen Buddhism the requisite special consensus is attained by the proper operative procedure whereby the apprentice is given a series of meditation tasks to "resolve", each time followed by the realization that these tasks are not resolvable. Towards the end of the training, the apprentice arrives at the general solution whereby any and all attempts to resolve are futile by virtue of two related facts about reality that their traineeship uncovers: (1) that the attempt to resolve any facts about reality is a perfunctory aspect of "people," that it is simply a characteristic of the state of Disharmony, that it has no goal or purpose or function, that it is therefore inevitable, that it simply is: and (2) that the attempt to resolve is a temporary process that ceases and is followed by another temporary state, Harmony, or non-searching (subjectively), and that this movement is not a cause or result of anything (such as, for example, the synthesis of an alleged solution to the "problem"), but is the existential antithesis of the state of struggle.
In the teachings of Don Juan, the Yaqui Man of knowledge (Castaneda, 1969, 1971), the operative procedure differs in detail but has the same force of establishing the special consensus whereby the assertion in expression (4) is validated. In this case, the operative procedure consists of repeated encounters with a spirit ally, through the use of drugs, encounters in which the apprentice comes to learn, to discover, that nothing is of importance, including the search itself. 7
The individual who comes to realize the futility of the attempt to resolve, which includes the realization that the movement is inevitable, i.e. that he will continue to undertake the futile attempt, has attained a state that can be referred to as the state of "controlled ordinariness", as is stated in the following expression:
(5a) The realization of futility ==> The state of controlled ordinariness
Expression (a) has again the status of a discoverable fact. It is problematic and needs special consensus for its verification.
The state of controlled ordinariness is nothing more nor less than the apperception of Harmony in the context of the Basic Movement, a relation that can be expressed as follows:
(5b) The apperception of the Basic Movement ==> The state of controlled ordinariness
In the teachings of Don Juan, the left hand sloe or this expression is identified with "seeing". In Zen Buddhism, it coincides with the notion of "liberation," Objectively speaking, the "apperception" of the Basic Movement is nothing more nor less than its self-reflection in symbolic terms, a characteristic process of what has been defined as "people.. The notion "reflection of the Basic Movement in symbolic terms" is another way of stating the existential definition whereby People ~ Harmony. In other words, "Harmony" is the symbolic transformation of one of two states established by the existential definition of "peopled." The notion "symbolic transformation" need not, and does not imply the presence of a subjective observer who is doing the transformation, any more than the existence of the relationship E = mc2 implies the presence of an observer or thinker.
The notion of a state of controlled ordinariness is related to what is ordinarily referred to as "spontaneity" in action, a subjective notion. The attempt to resolve and the realization of its futility, being subjective notions, set up further problematic features of a subjective sort, these being merely simple variant forms of the attempt to resolve. A general form of this problem is illustrated by such questions as, "How do I stop the attempt to resolve" or "How can I respond spontaneously when I am aware of my response," or some such form. These subjective notions stand in an antithetical relation to facts of reality, in the same sense that fantasy-fiction-illusion-dream are antithetical to reality, in ordinary terms.
The subjective problem of spontaneity which is involved - in the notion of "controlled ordinariness" is a state of Disharmony that is followed by Harmony when the relation in the following expression is realized:
(6) The state of controlled ordinariness ==> Deliberate folly
"Deliberate folly" represents a strategy of action, the "right way to live" in Don Juan's teachings (cf."controlled folly"), and in Zen Buddhism it is symbolized by the Bodhisattva. It is a subjective solution to a persistently subjective problem and is the Harmony that resolves the Disharmony of the problem of spontaneity in the state of controlled ordinariness.
The assertion in expression (6) is again non-trivial and represents a discoverable fact that needs special consensus for its verification.
I would like, now, to recapitulate my account thus far by reviewing the main expressions presented earlier and amplifying upon them:
An ordinary subjective account of the developmental sequence in (1) to (6) can be phrased in the following terms: an individual is an entity that can apprehend Truth or the facts of reality; when he focuses his attention on himself, this ability enables him to discover the truth or reality about himself, his nature; this attempt at self-discovery is, however, futile, since it embroils him in a boot-strap operation for which there is no solution; when he realizes this aspect about his nature, and furthermore, realizes that to attempt to control his-reactions is to return him to the futile attempt to resolve his subjective problems, he discovers the strategy of deliberate folly, which is not a solution, but the awareness of the impossibility of control; a strategy of action has eliminated the problem of spontaneity by rendering it irrelevant.
A subjective account of this type is, in ordinary terms, a logical absurdity. It is, itself, a boot-strap operation that cannot succeed and contains numerous contradictions that remind one of the Homunculus problem.
An objective account of the developmental sequence in (1) to (6) avoids all the problems of the subjective account but fails ultimately for the same reason. A consideration of this assertion leads to a philosophical nihilism that is distinctive of the Metaphysics of Nothingness. Let me elaborate.
An objective account could take the following form: people are individual time-space entities that oscillate to the rhythm of a Basic Movement, the fluctuation of states of Harmony-Disharmony; an inherent feature of the Basic Movement is its self-reflectiveness, which is to say, that any process in reality is a trivial variant of the same basic process, the Basic Movement; the attempt to "describe" this Basic Movement is a variant of the state of Disharmony; it is, in fact, a subjective account of the Basic Movement, an absurdity that engenders self-contradictory notions such as "attempt," ''awareness," ''realization," "control," spontaneity," "deliberateness," and the like, all of which make a factual assumption that is defined as Impossible by the conceptual order of the system, in particular, the existential monism established by the definition of "people".
The problematic nature of this objective account lies in the conceptual status of the notion "the attempt to describe" which has been surreptitiously inserted. In other terms, how does the account move legitimately from the acceptable objectivity of the Basic Movement, to the unacceptable subjectivity of "the attempt to describe itself,'` which was presented as a variant of the state of Disharmony? The only way that this lapse can be repaired would seem to be a non-trivial amplification of the definition given for "people" such that the term comes to include the notion "self-awareness" or the capacity to engender symbolic descriptions of itself. This would be an adequate solution were it not for the fact that it assigns to the notion "developmental sequence" a reality that has not been fully described by the system: the objectivity of the concept of Basic Movement does not allow for the "creation of knowledge" (through discovery of reality), for whence does knowledge come from, if it is not already part of the system? In non-empirical accounts, an unacceptable deus-ex-machina solution is to refer to the creation of knowledge by some such subjective term as "awakening from the cycle of necessity" (as in Hinduism) or "the attainment of cosmic consciousness" (in transcendental religion), and the like. The notions "awakening" and "cosmic consciousness" have no proper status within the system defined by the existential criterion. As in religious accounts, appeal is made to an "unknown" "unknowable" process since it transcends the defined entity "people".
The weakness of the objective account, thus. cannot be repaired. Its very objectivity denies it the possibility of being a solution to a subjective problem. When no objective solution is possible to a problem that is subjective, the only recourse is to deny that a problem exists. In this case, to deny the subjective problem, renders the objective account superfluous, since what is it an account of ? It looses its existential status, being itself a non-existent subjective process. This nihilistic statement has the force of a positive existential assertion. It asserts, in short, the existence of Nothing or Nothingness, as the only fact of Reality. And, in ordinary terms, that is absurd or incomprehensible, whichever one prefers. The Metaphysics of Nothingness is a philosophical line of reasoning that serves to show when fully elaborated that all empirical accounts of Reality are equivalent in that they lead to the assertion of the Nothingness of Reality as the only discoverable fact. (To attempt such a description is obviously an instance of deliberate folly.)
The Metaphysics of Nothingness is an account that claims to be basic, primary, all-inclusive. This claim is in the nature of an empirical hypothesis that is verifiable. Note that in non-empirical accounts, such as the religious, there is a claim to Rightness or Truth, in addition to, or besides the claim of all-inclusiveness or basicness. The problem of the truth or validity of an account about reality pertains to matters that fall outside the account itself: the validating criterion cannot properly be a part of the system that needs to be validated. Now, in the case of an account that claims to be basic, primary, all-inclusive, there cannot be a validating criterion that is outside the system, for in that case, the claim to all-inclusiveness would be vitiated. It follows that the question of the Rightness of an empirical metaphysical account of reality is not a proper question. In other words, questions about Rightness are themselves elements within the account. In the Metaphysics of Nothingness such a question is tantamount to the rejection of the postulate of existential monism, and is to be properly treated as an instance of "the attempt to resolve," which is a notion that has a defined status in the system.
On the other hand, the claim to all-inclusiveness is a verifiable fact through the special consensus of philosophical inquiry and propositional logic. Although I see ways in which such a proof could be adduced, indeed this is easily visible in the account that I have presented, I shall not develop such a proof at this time, although others may wish to make the attempt. By an "all-inclusive" account I mean to indicate the fact that all other accounts, such as that of physics or religion, can be subsumed under it. The Metaphysics of Nothingness is a particularly powerful account because it ultimately asserts nothing more than the existence of Nothingness. It is therefore "impregnable" to damaging criticism, taken as a whole, even though in detail, it may have problematic elements. It is a peculiar, but characteristic (i.e. criteria!), feature of the Metaphysics of Nothingness that it gives a proper conceptual status (e.g. "the attempt to resolve") to any and all possible accounts about reality, including itself. This device insures its all-inclusiveness. To put it in subjective terms, all attempts at describing reality and controlling one's destiny (e.g. "the right way to live") is given the conceptual status whereby the attempts are futile or pseudo-attempts. They have no consequences in reality. This fact is symbolized by the notion of "deliberate folly" and is congruent with the claim about the liberated master that his life remains ordinary, unlike the special life of the ascetic, the saint, the sorcerer. The Metaphysics of Nothingness cannot be seriously proposed as a philosophical system to help one achieve "the right way to live" since its acceptance or adoption is tantamount to denying the problem of "the right way to live", an expression that presupposes notions that are contrafactual within the system (e.g. that there is such a problem, that it is possible to do something about it, that it is possible to do that which isn't already being done, that there is a "subject" to "actions," etc.).
It used to strike me as curious that a line of reasoning such as that described in the previous section could serve the basis of personal fulfillment for those individuals who have intellectually accepted it. It no longer does so for reasons that I cannot adequately explain, and I take this change as a symptom of the fact that I have acquired the requisite special consensus for this system. What is at first incomprehensible by ordinary consensus (e.g. the assertion that everything is nothing) has become a self-evident truth, through special consensus. The system is neither verifiable nor intelligible by ordinary consensus. Yet, importantly, it is routinely verifiable by the straightforward stratagem of performing the proper operative procedure for the attainment of the requisite special consensus that will render the unintelligible into evident truth. As I pointed out in a number of places in the previous sections, non-empirical accounts do not have this property of routine social verifiability. Nevertheless, it appears that empirical accounts can serve the same psychological function as religious non-empirical accounts, and it is worth emphasizing this communality by giving it a conceptual status in the system elaborated earlier:
(7) [empirical accounts] & [non-empirical accounts] ==> [The right way to live]
where it is intended that "the right way to live" be cooccurent with psychologically beneficial states such as "fulfillment," "liberation,'' "happiness,-- ''maturity," and so on. An elaboration of this relationship would take the form of a psychological theory. It is my impression that the so called "actualization" theories in psychology are most congruent with the philosophical premises of empirical accounts of reality such as the Metaphysics of Nothingness. These particular psychological and metaphysical accounts are grounded in a common logical framework, which I have called "existential monism."
The "actualization" premise can be expressed as follows:
(8) Acceptance of self => Feeling of fulfillment
where "acceptance of self" presupposes (a) discovery of self and (b) the realization of the futility of the attempt to control, to change deliberately.
The religious premise can be expressed as follows:
(9) Following the rule of God (?)=> Feeling of fulfillment
Note that the implication is uncertain, since there are no operative procedures that guarantee the attainment of the requisite special consensus. In practice, when the feeling of fulfillment fails to materialize, it is asserted either that the "rule of God" has not been fully met or that the fulfillment will come "after death.- Routine social validation is not possible.
From the perspective of the Metaphysics of Nothingness, the attempt to follow the rule of God, where God is not equal to Man, is an instance of "the attempt to resolve,The religious way of life is, therefore, a state of Disharmony ("Upaya" in Zen Buddhism; "indulgence" in the teachings of Don Juan).
Both types of theories, the actualization and the religious, presuppose that which is denied by the Metaphysics of Nothingness: the assertion of the subjective possibility of control or deliberate action. This raises the following problem: how is it possible to experience fulfillment by assuming the impossible? This is the same problem as that raised earlier in different terms: how is it possible to act out "deliberate folly" and how does it lead to "liberation"? Or, to change the emphasis, what is the conceptual status of "to act out" and "leading to"? In Zen Buddhism accounts, the liberated master "acts out" deliberateness, knowing it is folly (illusion, self-contradiction): he acts as if, pretends, that action is problematic, knowing that it is not. In the teachings of Don Juan, love, attachment, involvement, are all "thoroughly unimportant" yet the man of knowledge who can see continues to indulge in these feelings, through deliberate folly. Thus, what is of utmost importance subjectively is of no importance objectively, it does not even have objective existence.
To me there is a satisfying simplicity, Beauty, to this thesis: The only possible solution to an illusory problem is the synthesis of another illusion. Here, the subjective and the objective meet without annihilating each other. Illusions are conceptual entities that have existence in an objective reality. While the content or substance of illusions, their claims about reality, are non-existent, false, the fact of the existence of such illusions is part of objective reality (cf. footnote 6). But lest this assertion be taken as the establishment of a dualistic doctrine, it must be added that the notion "objective reality" is a symbolic entity, hence a subjective product, hence itself an illusion. Ultimately, therefore, there exists nothing except illusions, the Reality of Nothingness.
Following Castaneda (1969), we can describe systems or kinds of "reality" in terms of (a) the conceptual elements within the system and (b) the conceptual order of the system, viz. the relationship among the elements.
In physics, the conceptual elements include the notion of elementary entities (e.g. molecule, atom, neutron, quantum, the speed of light, etc.) and basic processes (e.g. inertia, gravity, wave, time-space continuum, energy, etc.). The conceptual order specifies the relationship among these elements (e.g. the Second Law of Thermodynamics, E = mc2 , radioactive degeneration or transformation, the Relativity Equations, the Big-Bang Hypothesis, etc.).
In empirical metaphysics the conceptual elements include such notions as sensory impressions (internal and external stimuli), innate mental structures (emotions, basic logical propositions, dichotomies), derived structures (symbolic descriptions, creative synthesis) and transformational processes (deletion, substitution, paraphrasing, selection, generalization, etc.).
Accounts about the conceptual order in physics ordinarily claim that the conceptual elements take the form they have because of the inherent structure of the Universe, and though Man, as an observer, cannot be ultimately eliminated as a source of influence, it is nevertheless "minimized". Thus the conceptual order of physics would be equivalent to the conceptual order of other "objective" symbolic descriptions of the Universe, irrespective of the specific nature of the intelligent author of the theory of reality, whether Man or some other intelligent life form.
Not all metaphysical accounts make such a claim (cf. phenomenological accounts of reality). Non-empirical religious accounts are ordinarily congruent with the physical conceptual order (viz. God's Creation has an existential status independently of Man's existence) even though, to be sure, the religious account goes beyond physics in that it assigns a proper conceptual status to extraordinary events in the Universe, "miracles," or the direct intervention of an entity outside Creation. Empirical metaphysical accounts are based on the existential definition of "people,. which is to say that, on the one hand, they are more inclusive than physics, and on the other hand, they deny the claim of still greater inclusiveness of religious accounts (i.e. God cannot be an entity outside the existential monism based on the definition of "people").
The apparent weakness of the Metaphysics of Nothingness lies, as pointed out earlier, in the problematic nature of the relationship between the objectively defined Basic Movement (Harmony < - > Disharmony) and the subjective nature of the notion "the attempt to resolve." I stated that this relationship is nothing more nor less than the reflexive nature of the Basic Movement, i.e. its postulated character is such that it reverberates itself in different forms, one of these being "symbolic description" or "subjective awareness,- This is a weakness in the sense that I have not specified the operative procedure which can lead to the requisite special consensus that will be able to refute the charge that the notion of reflexiveness of the objectively defined Basic Movement is an inappropriate reductionism of the allegedly real entity of "awareness" (hence, of the subject, and of control). This is a practical weakness, not a weakness in principle. Religious accounts suffer from this weakness in principle, because of the undefined status of God. The Metaphysics of Nothingness allows routine social validation, in principle, but in practice, the completion of the required operative procedure is problematic, uncertain. In the history of mankind, many individuals have attempted the apprenticeship, and completed it; others have failed. To remedy this practical problem, we would need a better teaching model, one that can be ultimately successful with all trainees, with all individual entities defined as "peopled." A consideration of the nature of such a model is a psychological theory and I shall not attempt it here.
All accounts are symbolic and all symbolic accounts are inherently self-contradictory. This conclusion is inescapable. It was stated in explicit terms many centuries ago by the Taoist scholars of the East. Non-empirical, religious, accounts derive their ultimate significance from the doctrine of the incomprehensibility of God. Empirical metaphysical accounts derive their ultimate significance from the doctrine of the assertion of Nothingness. The scientific account of reality escapes the impression of undefinability, of nothingness, only in so far as it restricts, in advance, the scope of the inquiry, restricting it in precisely those terms as to exclude the impression of undefinability. The function of the scientific account is different from the function of the metaphysical or the religious account. But there has been a significant change in the scientific account of late which is worth pointing out. Newtonian Physics served to stabilize and to fortify ordinary consensus about reality. The Physics since Einstein has ceased to count as a stabilizing factor for ordinary consensus. As noted by Alan Watts, modern theoretical physics and Buddhism share in common the same symbolic contradictions, the mutual implication of antipodes: matter-space, particle-wave, timespace, the cyclicity of the Universe or expansion-contraction. In other words, as physics begins to transcend the ordinary experience of reality, its conceptual foundations change in the direction of the Metaphysics of Nothingness. In the future, the two will concide, and at that point man's ordinary experience of reality will have become irrelevant. Man, as we know him today, will cease to exist. The death of Man must follow the death of God.
"A theory is a strategy for confusion. The better the theory, the more it baffles and boggles."
-An anonymous Taoist Rascal.
1. I would like to express my indebtedness to Alan Watts, whom I have never had the privilege of meeting, but whose writings on Eastern philosophies have given me new philosophical vistas about myself and my place in the Universe, new perspectives that I found both inspiring and ultimately futile.
2. The eight books with which I am familiar are listed in the References section.
3. I borrow these terms from Castaneda (1969, 1971), whose fascinating account of the reality of a Yaqui "Man of Knowledge" deserves to be read,by anyone interested in the metaphysics of reality and in epistemology.
4. Readers who are interested in a psycholinguistic discussion of the concepts "account,", "consensus" and "justification" may wish to consult the first part of my recent book The New Psycholinguistics and Foreign Language Teaching: Collected Essays, listed in the References.
5. Theoretical physics has undergone such basic changes in the last half-century that it appears to have lost its foundations in ordinary consensus. See the discussion in a later section entitled "The Metaphysics of Physics".
6. "Mythical facts" and "mythological facts" should not be confused: the first expression must have an underlying semantic structure that is equivalent to "alleged facts that are myths" (i.e. illusions, dreams, fantasies); the second expression is derivable from "facts in mythology..' Mythologies are accounts, and mythological facts refer to assertions within such an account.
7. In Castaneda's accounts (1969, 1971) there appears to be some confusion with respect to the contribution to be made to the apprentice's goal of seeing by the spirit entity Don Juan refers to as "Mescalito", who can be encountered through the use of peyote. Mescalito is a "protector," rather than a spirit ally, and his protection depends on his unpredictable (by man) benevolence. If that is correct, then Mescalito is a religious entity and therefore cannot be included as a necessary step in the operative procedure.
Castaneda, Carlos. The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge. Ballantine Books, 1969.
Castaneda, Carlos. A separate Reality: Further Conversations with Don Juan. N.Y.: Simon and Schuster, 1971.
Jakobovits, L.A. and Gordon B. Y., The Context of Foreign Language Teaching. Rowley, Mass.: Newbury House Publishers, 1974 (in Press).
Watts, Alan W. Beyond Theology: The Art of Godsmanship. Meridian Books, The World Publishing Company, 1967.
Watts, Alan W. The Book. Macmillan, Collier Books, 1966.
Watts, Alan W. The Two Hands of God. Macmillan, Collier, 1963.
Watts, Alan W. The Joyous Cosmology. Random House, Vintage Books, 1962.
Watts, Alan W. Psychotherapy, East and West. Ballantine Books, Pantheon, 1961.
Watts, Alan W. This is It. Macmillan, Collier Books, 1958.
Watts, Alan W. The Way of Zen. Random House, Vintage Books, 1957.
Watts, Alan W. The Wisdom of Insecurity. Random House, Vintage Books, 1951.