Blow your mind with epistemology and ontology!

To begin in the middle:

–          There is no “it”, but there is talk about “it”.  Ultimately the talk about “it”, the pointing to “it”, is more fundamental to “it” than anything else, because it is the RELATIONS that are primary: thingness is a subset of relatedness.  Relations are not between two “things” but are recursively self-generated between other relations – things fall out of relations (things = Earth, relations = Water).  Relations themselves are a precipitate of tension between complementarily opposing potentials (Air).  Relations are to opposing potentials as things are to relations.  Opposing potentials are themselves a precipitate of the whole, and work alongside each other within the whole simultaneously.  Each step from the whole is a step-down transformation, we could say that beginning with level N, we move to level N-1.  Each level is pulled out of simultaneity by an act of distinction within the whole, of the whole, by the whole.  A cascading of levels of distinction yields the ontology of “things”, and simultaneously an epistemology of “knowing” activity, which together yield the whole of cosmology.

–          This can be approached in another way.  We can begin first with a problem of the modern condition, made apparent most strongly by both postmodernism and deconstructionism.  The problem is that language is relative, and all notices of difference are relative and contextual.  More strongly, our whole epistemology is therefore relative and contextual.  Thus, how can we reconcile “being” and the need for an ontological grounding of a “reality” if all our knowledge is already, in a de-facto way, arbitrarily founded?  Do we have to sacrifice our ontological ideals on the altar of a tattered epistemology, shredded always at the edges by the inability of language and knowledge to reach being?  Must we abandon, as Kant would have us do, any claims of knowledge of higher realms?  What do we do about the chicken and egg paradox, wherein all claims about ontology arise first from an inherent epistemology (postmodernism: relativism of epistemology), when logically some ontology must give rise to the system which can yield that very epistemology in the first place?  Must our epistemology be forever and absolutely divorced from ontology (the Kantian dilemma). NO!

–          SOLUTION: We embrace the paradox.  We need not think of “being” as absolute; neither must it be purely “constructed”.  There can be both a transcendent and immanent aspect to “being” simultaneously.  Epistemology rests upon ontology, but ontology likewise rests upon epistemology.  How we know limits reality, and reality limits what we know.  But this is not a circle all at the same level; it is part of a spiraling loop that moves beyond itself while referring to itself; it transcends itself at a higher level while being fully itself at the lower level (transcendence + immanence).  It is paradox in action as an expression of a higher patterning of “truth”, the truth that paradox is simultaneously the end-stage of logic, and the beginning of something else.

  • Indeed, paradox is the only possible foundational center for (and infinitely distant periphery for) logic: all logic rests upon, either implicitly or explicitly, paradoxical relationships (Goedel’s insight).  These relationships serve as the bounding limits for what can be called “logical”; they limit the form of thinking which stays within those bounds… but they simultaneously mark the exit points for thinking, like huge signs on the map saying “here be dragons”.  Paradox is thus a key entryway for thinking that wishes to see the nature of the dragon for itself, rather than to be content with its “impossible” description.
    • The dragon “itself” is “impossible” because it a fantastical/metaphorical creature, and thus its description likewise partakes of the very same impossibility – how can one describe accurately that which is non-existent? Thus all descriptions of “dragons” are themselves paradoxes.  But this is seen only from the perspective of the second-order.  The first-order content is merely the description of the dragon.  But the first-order content of the description is seen, from a second-order level of process, to lead one to the very nature of the second-order itself as a paradoxical loop as a potential in the first order.  It is only from the second-order that the paradoxical nature of the first-order is seen as a potential, but this recognition is only possible from the second-order perspective in actuality.  Thus, paradoxically, the first-order content holds the potential for an awakening to the second-order process which illuminates how the first-order content made the actuality of this awakening in fact.  This paradoxical relationship between the first and second-orders holds as a general pattern, and leads towards the realization of the primacy of the second-order in relation to the first-order; the second order is immanent in the first, while transcending it.  This same relationship holds between ontology and epistemology, but in a slightly different way: mutually.
  • Paradox signals the point at which logic ceases, but all human thinking is not bound by logic – only logical thinking is thus bound.  Human capacities transcend and include logic.  Logic always only applies to THOUGHTS, not to THINKING itself.  Logic is a limitation on the form of thinking, not on the process of thinking itself, and it is thus that human thinking is free of logic: it may bind itself by logical forms, but is not required to do so.

–          What is human thinking that moves through and beyond logic?  It is what Steiner calls Imagination.  This is the first step beyond logic as the highest arbiter of thinking, but this does not obviate logic, it merely places logic within a larger framework of the potentials for thinking as a whole.  Imaginative thinking allows for thoughts which are living, but it is precisely this living aspect which cannot be expressed within purely logical formations of language: it cannot be reduced to a specific form any more than one would expect an exacting and thorough description of a seed, written on a piece of paper and placed in soil, to actually grow into a plant.

–          SO: Being can be usefully approached with the help of the distinction between levels of order.  We must constantly resist the urge to reify and ontologically project our thoughts into a realm that is categorically static and dead, as if the Parmenidean dream of ultimate ontological unity had always been (necessarily) true.  We must not make the assumption that our thoughts of things necessitates the thing’s own being (a collapse of the paradoxical dynamic between ontology and epistemology).  Rather, we can recognize a co-creative act whereby the being of the thing and our thinking about it constitute a unity that has a second-order cybernetic character: its unfolding as a thing and as an idea are co-created. This insight is fundamental. The “being” of a spoon, for example, is never separable from the thinking by which the spoon arose – in the first place in the mind of the creator of the spoon, and secondly, as an inward enlivening of the same idea in a new context in the person thinking about the spoon.  It is quite strictly correct to say that “there is no spoon.”  But this relationship has consequences far beyond any such specific example, when it is understood as a foundational pattern for the entirety of the cosmos.  It is, indeed, a basis for cosmology itself.  To wit:

–          What there “is” is evolving relationships of difference — not a difference OF something,  as the something is precisely what arises from changing relationships of difference.  Things are not things; they are changes in relationships of difference.  Or more specifically, changes in relationships of differences of changes in relationships of differences of changes in relationships of differences of….   The epistemology of difference is an ontology of evolution; the ontology of evolution is the epistemology of difference.

–          Imagine a universe that consists entirely of a volume of homogeneous water.  The most primary possible differentiation that can be made in the homogenous water is not one of an ontological nature, conceived in the normal sense of the word: because the entirety of the water is homogenous and exactly like the water everywhere else, it cannot be by ontological separation (a taking OUT of some finite volume from the whole) that a difference can be noted (this would require another universe, while the current one is stipulated as homogenous).  The most primary possible differentiation is one of self-movement, which in the case of water manifests as the formation of a toroid.  The toroid “is” the changing of a relationship of difference.  It is not enough that there be only a difference (as if the difference itself was static and unchanging), for without the movement – the change of the difference – the toroid would be nothing but the water.  The toroid cannot be separated from the water (for water is all it is, and it “is” nothing without water) or otherwise be brought into distinction with the water, without the change of the difference which makes the difference that is changing.  The change of the difference is the difference: if the difference ceased its changing then the toroid would become again indistinguishable from the surrounding water.  But every difference is also simultaneously a relationship. All polarities are also unities.  Thus we can speak not just of a change of difference but more appropriately of a change of a relationship of difference.  This change is evolutionary, and it is the basis of both ontology and epistemology simultaneously.  Each is the necessary context for the other to (simultaneously, i.e. outside of time) appear.

–          The ontology of every “thing” is paradoxically entwined with the self-differentiation of that which is self-less as an epistemological act.  Every “being” is also a “knowing”; every “knowing” is also a “being”.  The talk of “essence” in the discipline of ontology has historically been blind to the co-incident necessity of an epistemological act of knowing, an act which is itself ontological.  Being and Knowing are polar co-arising primal activities as mutually self-defining differences.  Thus the “ground of being” is also the “ground of knowing”.

–          This self-referentiality at the heart of ontology, coincident with the epistemology of difference, is perfectly illustrated by the doubly self-enclosed, self-relating form of the moving toroid of water in an otherwise still volume. Topologically the toroid is formed from the movement of two circles which are oriented orthogonally to each other.  One circle is BEING, the other circle is KNOWING.  The fundamental knowing is a knowing of being, and the fundamental being is a being of knowing.  The primal ontological distinction is a primal epistemological distinction.  We can say, using this metaphorical language, that the “first difference” is topologically toroidal, with one axis (ontology) coincident and mutually self-defining with respect to the other axis (epistemology).  The two together yield what we can call cosmology, which is the playing out of the change of the relationship of differences as the changes of the relationships of differences across all lower orders N-1, N-2 … N-n.



Commenting area

  1. That’s wonderful. I’ve come to think that the greatest disservice to the activity of thinking has been obscuring of it via all sorts of philosophical gestures, all well intentioned (or almost all, I guess).

    In my opinion your essay is a wonderful instance of the growing impulse to recognize the true, actual, concrete miracle of thinking, not as something that one must have a degree to “track” or must be able to parse through all sorts of beautiful complicated epistemological treaties.

    This is what I love: If you and were enjoying some lemonade on my porch and I said, “Seth, what do you mean by “ontology” in that sentence right there?”, before (and during) the next flow of sentences came out of your mouth, you could choose to let your attention rest almost solely on the concrete, “bodily” sense of meaning from which you will be answering. I can’t get over that. That we can directly refer to the actual dynamic that is actually “doing the work” before, during and after the conceptual (or gestural) explication. I mean, you could dance me the answer, yet your “knowledge” of whether or not the dance was getting across your meaning would still come from checking the activity of the “cognitive feeling” (there is no good word, but need not be because it’s right there, always available for direct reference…even as I type now).

    We all know what it’s like when we are saying something and then suddenly need to retract a word or phrase.

    I like what you say about paradox. In the model that I work from, paradox is languages way of asking us to come up with a new kind of phrase. That’s what so amazing about the moment we spit out a paradox; our present experiencing is in direct relationship to some aspect of truth, is “knowing” something special- it is only the taking of the words/concepts within their current logical functioning that you find the so-called contradiction. That’s why whenever new truths are coming about in any field, the pioneers seem to be speaking in mainly paradoxes. However, as the culture (micro or macro) begins to absorb the experiences behind the new “view”, the paradoxes vanish, making way for the next round of contradictions.

    Anyway, it’s all fascinating stuff and I appreciate this essay for how it invites the reader to recognize the ongoing activity of his or her cognitive being.

    Oh, here is an article you might enjoy that also instances this gesture:

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