Thursday, September 21, 2006

Extreme Real Worlds

The comment by John about how Godel proved that there must always be inconsistency in certain large-enough logical systems, reminds me of an observation I had which must have been had by others since it seems obvious. When thinking or experiencing or perceiving to extremes, things become radically different or the opposite of what they appear when one perceives and thinks normally, yet the world or reality so perceived can be as convincing as our normal everyday life.

In physics when you analyze the very small, subatomic world the reality there is radically different from our normal reality and actually doesn’t follow our physical laws. When you look at the very large in cosmology, you get mind-boggling proportions difficult to conceive and mysteries like the big bang and the nature of space, time and the universe.

When you look intensively inward, using a rigorously neutral introspective practice like Buddhism, you experience everything as impermanent and you observe the arising and passing away of your own self. The nature of one’s self, the world and existence appear totally different.

When you examine rationally our beliefs and the important concepts we use – knowledge, morality, reality, good/bad, right/wrong, true/false – you come to no rational agreement about what they mean and skepticism is still a problem after more than 2000 years of thinking. Our everyday certainty is in contrast to continuing, radical, philosophical uncertainty about the facts of life.

The world of dreams is odd and extraordinary in its creativity, craziness and profundity and it’s a “normal” part of every person’s daily experience. In psychoanalysis, we can experience how we act out patterns that we have no intention or awareness of acting out. While we live out one life we are simultaneously living out another, unconsciously.

Finally, our lives are bounded by the two mysterious events of birth and death. When we intimately experience these facts of life that everyone is subject to, they pull us out of our normal reality and can be the most profound experiences of our lives.

It’s as if our everyday world is bordered on all sides by extreme worlds that turn our normal, everyday reality upside down. When we push experience, perception, analysis to extremes, things become radically different, yet entirely convincing.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

True Contradictions

The philosopher Graham Priest has written a book called Beyond the Limits of Thought. He argues that all large-scale philosophical systems will have contradictions at their limits and these should not be regarded, as philosophers do, as the problems we have to solve but as truths about what happens to reason when it pushes the bounds of thinking. These contradictions as true contradictions. All our world views will have them. Priest also says that the central “law” of philosophy, The Law of Non-Contradiction, has never been proved and the arguments for it are quite weak. He and others have developed “paraconsistent” logics, meaning logics that leave room for some inconsistency. He gives the example of certain Eastern logics which provide of contradiction. The online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has an article by him on "Dialetheism", which is the view that there are true contradictions.

I found his work quite liberating because I always viewed contradiction as the enemy. In contrast with this, and, in another way, in keeping with it, I always loved the Tao te Ching which has many contradictory passages which convey great insight and wisdom.