Mind, World, and Measurement

If we stop assuming that our senses give us access to some reality "out there" independent of us then we don't have to deal with this conundrum.
— leo

But then we cannot explain how it is that we all experience the same world of things, given that our experience tells us that our minds are not directly connected at all.
— Janus

I believe that the subject, or the mind, is one element of every perceived experience, in other words, that reality invariably has a subjective pole, aspect or element, which is not generally apparent; as Michel Bitbol says 'it knows but it is not known'. This is where I differ from realism which attributes to the objects of perception intrinsic reality presumably anchored by physics.

A Buddhist would say that 'subject and object' or 'mind and world' are co-arising; that these exist in dependence on one another, so, no world without mind, but conversely no mind without world (which is where Buddhism departs radically from European idealism). Whereas the realist invariably recoils at this notion, because we know that we are finite, temporal beings, while the world is of vast duration and size that extends far beyond us in both space and time. But again, I would counter that the notions of 'duration' and 'scale' both imply or require a mind, as they too have no intrinsic reality. I mean, even though it is empirically true that the world is much vaster than myself, the sense of scale which enables us to judge what is larger or smaller, sooner or later, nearer or further, seems to me to be not findable in the physical world. That is dependent upon a perspective.

Mystical, I suppose, but then Neils Bohr did say 'a scientist is just an atom's way of looking at itself'.

But we have to consider that the human mind in a biological sense, and also in terms of the kind of minds we have due to a common culture and language, means we do indeed perceive the same objects and in some sense the same world, even though 'the act of perception' is something that requires the mind. So this is how idealism defeats the argument of solipsism, that the idealist only knows his ownmind. It is that we don't - we are social and cultural and linguistic beings, who share a set of definitions, associations - indeed this is a large part of what 'culture' means. So consciousness is in that sense a collective. It's obviously differentiated at the individual level, but much of that is due to the consequences of our individualist culture. (
 I think this is where Wittgenstein's private language argument applies.)

But note that this also allows for the efficacy of science. As our conscious doings are indeed embedded in cultural and scientific and linguistic conventions, then it's not as if they're private or unique to us; they are 'intersubjectively validated'. But they can be that, without being intrinsically real or possessing inherent reality. Science is still perfectly sound, but it is not underwritten with reference to some purported 'absolute existent'. That's the crucial qualification.

Logic, maths and science

Scientific method relies on the ability to capture just those attributes of subjects in such a way as to be able to make quantitative predictions about them. In other words, if you can represent something mathematically, then you can use mathematics to make predictions about it. The greater the amenability of the subject to mathematical description, the more accurate the prediction can be: hence the description of physics as the paradigm of an 'exact science'. Bertrand Russell said that 'physics is mathematical not because we know so much about the physical world, but because we know so little; it is only its mathematical properties that we can discover.' But nevertheless, within that domain, the ability to apply mathematical logic to all manner of real objects yields practically all of the power of scientific method. In other words, what can be expressed in quantitative terms can also be made subject to mathematical analysis and, so, to prediction and control. It becomes computable. That is of the essence of the so-called 'universal science' envisaged on the basis of Cartesian algebraic geometry.

But this also challenges the dichotomy of mathematics being 'in the mind' and the world 'out there'. Things that can be quantified to conform to mathematical predictions in the same way that they conform to logic. We know by mathematics and logic the laws and axioms which are visible to thought itself - Frege's 'laws of thought' - and requiring no empirical validation, on account of them being logically necessary; they're not 'out there'. But through this quantitative method, the certainty availed by logical prediction can be applied to collections of all kinds, not just to empirical particulars , and with mathematical certainty. It's the universal applicability of these procedures to practically any subject which opens access to domains of possibility forever out of reach of an intelligence incapable of counting (whence, Wigner's 'unreasonable efficacy').

I think that in some fundamental respect, real numbers are discovered rather than being invented, but that they're neither in the mind, nor in the world; they pertain to a logical domain which transcends that dichotomy; they are real a priori to that division; but that having the ability to perceive them also bestows the ability to invent other like kinds of ideas; so the distinction 'discovered' or 'invented' can't be hard and fast.[/quote]

Existence and Reality

The following were my post and reply from a philosophy forum. It generated quite a bit more discussion, but the initial response was, I think, the only worthwhile one, and I regarded it as a very positive response from a 'professional'. Subsequently I have found that a lot of what I am groping towards is (suprisingly) represented in Thomistic and Augustinian philosophy, but then I suppose these are instances of the Philosophia Perennis in European culture. Originally posted Feb 2009.

Posted 01/17/09 - 10:10 AM:
Subject: Existence and Reality
(I have studied metaphysics and philosophy informally, although did undergraduate philosophy at Uni, so any guidance, further readings, on this question welcome.)

Here I want to consider whether there is a difference between what is real and what exists.

'Exist' is derived from a root meaning to 'be apart', where 'ex' = apart from or outside, and 'ist' = be. Ex-ist then means to be a seperable object, to be 'this thing' as distinct from 'that thing'. This applies to all the existing objects of perception - chairs, tables, stars, planets, and so on - everything which we would normally call 'a thing'. So we could say that 'things exist'. No surprises there, and I don't think anyone would disagree with that proposition.

Now to introduce a metaphysical concern. I was thinking about 'God', in the sense understood by classical metaphysics and theology. Whereas the things of perception are composed of parts and have a beginning and an end in time, 'God' is, according to classical theology, 'simple' - that is, not composed of parts- and 'eternal', that is, not beginning or ending in time.

Therefore, 'God' does not 'exist', being of a diffrent nature to anything we normally perceive. Theologians would say 'God' was superior to or beyond existence (for example, Pseudo-Dionysius; Eckhardt; Tillich.) I don't think this is a controversial statement either, when the terms are defined this way (and leaving aside whether you believe in God or not, although if you don't the discussion might be irrelevant or meaningless.)

But this made me wonder whether 'what exists' and 'what is real' might, in fact, be different. For example, consider number. Obviously we all concur on what a number is, and mathematics is lawful; in other words, we can't just make up our own laws of numbers. But numbers don't 'exist' in the same sense that objects of perception do; there is no object called 'seven'. You might point at the numeral, 7, but that is just a symbol. What we concur on is a number of objects, but the number cannot be said to exist independent of its apprehension, at least, not in the same way objects apparently do. In what realm or sphere do numbers exist? 'Where' are numbers? Surely in the intellectual realm, of which perception is an irreducible part. So numbers are not 'objective' in the same way that 'things' are. Sure, mathematical laws are there to be discovered; but no-one could argue that maths existed before humans discovered it. Mathematical relationships are indubitably a function of perception; nothing is counted if there is no-one to count.

However this line of argument might indicate that what is real might be different to what exists.

I started wondering, this is perhaps related to the platonic distinction between 'intelligible objects' and 'objects of perception'. Objects of perception - ordinary things - only exist, in the Platonic view, because they conform to, and are instances of, laws. Particular things are simply ephemeral instances of the eternal forms, but in themselves, they have no actual being. Their actual being is conferred by the fact that they conform to laws (logos?). So 'existence' in this sense, and I think this is the sense it was intended by the Platonic and neo-Platonic schools, is illusory. Earthly objects of perception exist, but only in a transitory and imperfect way. They are 'mortal' - perishable, never perfect, and always transient. Whereas the archetypal forms exist in the One Mind and are apprehended by Nous: while they do not exist they provide the basis for all existing things by creating the pattern, the ratio, whereby things are formed. The are real, above and beyond the existence of wordly things; but they don't actually exist. They don't need to exist; things do the hard work of existence.

So the ordinary worldly person is caught up in 'his or her particular things', and thus is ensnared in illusory and ephemeral concerns. Whereas the Philosopher, by realising the transitory nature of ordinary objects of perception, learns to contemplate within him or herself, the eternal Law whereby things become manifest according to their ratio, and by being Disinterested, in the original sense of that word.

Do you think this is a valid interpretation of neo-platonism? Do you think it makes the case that what is real, and what exists, might be different? And if this is so, is this a restatement of the main theme of classical metaphysics? Or is it a novel idea?

180 Proof
cult deprogrammer

jeeprs wrote:
Do you think this is a valid interpretation of neo-platonism?


Do you think it makes the case that what is real, and what exists, might be different?

Via transcendence? No. Via immanence? Yes.

And if this is so, is this a restatement of the main theme of classical metaphysics? Or is it a novel idea?

Yes, it is classical metaphysics, and it is novel too particularly in it's Schopenhauerian (and to a lesser degree Heideggerian) manifestation -- e.g. The Will is real (i.e. noumenon) and the world (i.e. phenomena) exists as expressions (i.e. representations) of will (ala "The Many as emanations of The One").

... So the ordinary worldly person is caught up in 'his or her particular things', and thus is ensnared in illusory and ephemeral concerns. Whereas the Philosopher, by realising the transitory nature of ordinary objects of perception, learns to contemplate within him or herself, the eternal Law whereby things become manifest according to their ratio, and by being Disinterested, in the original sense of that word.

That's the upshot of the western metaphysical, as well as mystical, tradition. The transcendent, or "other worldly", temptation is, however, problematic as Nietzsche points out (re: nihilism). The counter-tradition of immanence is found in the pre-Socratics, Epicureans, Cynics, Pyrrhonians ... and later resumed again by Hobbes, Spinoza, Hume, Feuerbach, the philosophes, Nietzsche, et al. What I take from them is, more or less, this:

-- A particular X exists.

-- The real is that whole to which all particular Xs belong.

-- A particular X exists therefore is not real.

-- The real does not exist (i.e. is not actual) since it is the possibility-space of every particular X.

-- "God" does not exist; but is "god" real? Only insofar as "god" is simple (i.e. impersonal, involuntary, perfectly symmetrical / infinite-in-all (i.e. infinite)-dimensions, etc). To say such a "god" is real is only to say "the real is real", so why bother saying "god" at all?

-- The real is the power to exist that is not existent. Analogues: dao, brahman, sunyata, being, substance, noumenon, etc.

-- Whence the real? is an incoherent question. Only that which exists comes to be (and passes away). Only particular Xs are events, or effects of causes. "The cause of causes" is nonsense since it doesn't explain anything, only substitutes the initial question with a mystery one step removed.

-- The real is void. For instance, an empty board instantiates the maximum possibility-space for the game of chess; before the first move is made, even moreso, before the first piece is placed on the board, every match ever, or that will ever be, played is possible-all-at-once. The real is multiversal, and a chess match exists only insofar as it is a particular worldline "through" the multiverse (i.e. chess's possibility-space).

( ... )

Implications. The "ordinary worldly person" concerns himself only with what exists for him (i.e. his everyday sphere of interests) and gives no thought, or ignores, that which exists for everyone everywhere ... because such an ubiquitous, or universal, particular is simply not evident -- ordinary people are bewitched by "the obvious" without belaboring it; the philosopher (only in the confines of her study as Hume reminds us), on the other hand, contemplates the void -- that encompassing expanse subtracted of all details & particulars, ineffable, and like the horizon, completely inescapable & insurpassable & impenetrable, infinite in all directions -- of which "worldly things" consist, by which they come to be & pass away, including herself, which is a recognition ecstatic in its near-mathematically precise clarity. The philosopher does not contemplate or dwell in some other, higher, world which the ordinary person distractedly ignores since she is, first & last, also "ordinary" & "worldly"; unlike her unphilosophizing neighbors she's reminded by her solitary reveries in the real that she too, like every thing else, only exists ... an infinitesmal particle, almost but not quite yet nothing, like a ripple gently spreading out across the surface of a pond ... beautifully ephemeral. She patiently learns to feel (be) -- amor fati -- the ecstatic pulse of the ordinary.

Mahayana Buddhism Study Group

Proposed meeting dates for 2019: 17th March, 19th May, 21st July, 15th Sept from 9am - 12pm at www.buddhistlibrary.org.au

The Mahayana Study group will gather to study topics and passages from well-known scriptures, and do some readings in the lead-up to each meeting. Then we have a meditation, presentation on the topic, and a discussion group.  It would be similar in format to the dhamma sharing group but by drawing on these texts, there will be a lot of content to draw on.

Examples will include some readings from well-known Mahayana Sutras, including Lankavatara, Vimalakirti, and others.  Also texts such as the Buddha Nature Treatise, Awakening of Faith in the Mahayana, and so on.

Topics including prajnaparamita, bodhicitta, and sunyata.

The focus will be on East Asian traditions more than Tibetan (unless someone who is well-versed in Tibetan Buddhism joins.)

It won't be too academic or technical, but some study and reflection will be expected from attendees - readings will be posted here in advance to allow time for preparation.

Turning Up

Q. When one meditates on awareness, where then is this awareness located?

A: Nowhere. Location is in awareness, awareness is not in location. You’re trying to objectify it, locate it amongst the seen and the known. But it can’t be done, because it is prior to that. Hence, un-knowing, ‘don’t know mind’, way of negation.

When you meditate, the only thing that you actually do is turn up. Then the only thing you pay attention to, is you not paying attention. When you notice you’re not paying attention, then you’re paying attention. That is the only part of the whole process that you actually do.