Sunday, October 18, 2009

Announcing a New Ultimate

I thought of a new concept for the ultimate stuff or what their really is beyond all appearances. People use varying terms for this ultimate stuff: Truth, Reality, The Real, The Absolute, God, the Tao, Nature. But I think there is a paradoxical and almost not-there quality to the ultimate stuff which is not reflected in those concepts. So we need a word that takes up that space - in our minds and on the page - but which doesn't give us much to cling to, since we really can't prove to everyone that we are the ones who've got It (the Truth, the Right way, God). So I propose that we call the ultimate stuff "The Absence". It is a word, a concept, so it is present and yet it refers to what's not there. It's pleasantly or irritatingly paradoxical since it's identifying something that is missing. Maybe the Buddhist notion of emptiness is comparable, but that has to be clarified by saying: "it really means empty/fullness" and "don't think it means nothingness." The term "The Absence" points to something that isn't there.

A drawback to this term could be that it could refer to a previous presence that is now gone because it went away, but that may be ok too.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Part of a Worldview

Mine is a pragmatic worldview. This means that I believe in using differing vocabularies or perspectives – scientific, mystical, rational, poetic, practical, religious - to engage the differing encounters we have in life. I’m mostly naturalistic in my choice of perspectives, which means that I like using science, reason and experimentation to understand things, and am suspicious of supernatural explanations. But, if in the struggle to live a good life someone believes in or has a personal experience of God, or finds astrology useful, and they do good, then they should use it. Of course, determining if anyone is using a perspective or vocabulary well is a debatable matter and one has to bring one’s array of ethical beliefs to the evaluations and debate. There is no superhuman arbiter of right and wrong, or if there is, we can’t prove to all participants that we are the ones who know it.

So while the natural and social sciences can be great tools for understanding the world, poetry is also a great vehicle for understanding and experiencing nature which science often neglects, and, in its hyper-instrumentality often hinders. While psychoanalysis fairs poorly in scientific tests of its truth, it can be used well as a means for understanding human life. And, as with most things, it can be abused and used for ill. So one must be careful to evaluate on an individual basis the various uses that people are putting their worldviews, but each worldview will be understood and evaluated according to the assumptions, beliefs and criteria of the evaluating worldview.

Because of this view, there is a great emphasis on how people interact to resolve their differences. Since there is no, non-human higher power to appeal to: whether God, the Law, Truth, Goodness, Reality, we must direct our attention not only to our vision of how things are but how the other sees things and why. In order for that discussion to be a fair one in which the best arguments prevail, the context of the argument has to be uncoerced. Jurgen Habermas describes the “ideal speech situation” in which power differentials of varying kinds are absent so the force of the better argument can win.

But what of worldviews that emphasize a practice or experience in order to know and deemphasize rational argumentation? A Buddhist practitioner could say that you have to do the practice and see for yourself. One alters one’s being then one knows. The question of what a discussion is and how to interact must be questioned.