Monday, January 15, 2018

UNDERSTANDING OTHERS


UNDERSTANDING OTHERS

D. R. Khashaba

“The more I think about language, the more it amazes me that people ever understand each other.” Gödel

THE MORAL SPHERE

The phrase ‘understanding others’ can be taken in either of two distinct senses; (1) the moral sense; (2) the semantic or epistemic sense.

In the moral sphere ‘understanding others’ relates to the aptitude of human individuals to appreciate the feelings, motives, aims, and interests of their fellow humsns. All normal, wholesome human individuals have a measure of this faculty. Many species of non-human animals show empathy with other members of their own species and sometimes with members of other species.

No aggregation of humans – family, tribe, society, etc. – can function and survive without a minimal measure of fellow-understanding. But individuals differ widely in their gift of understanding others. Practically all tension and strife within human groups – families, societies, countries, and even between one country and another – are fuelled by failure of understanding the other.

Persons endowed with a generous share of this gift may, outwardly, be unfortunate; they may be fated to give more than they receive; but inwardly they are abundantly rich, even their sorrows are precious.

When we hear about atrocities committed by deformed and depraved characters – rape and slaughter and torture – we tend to feel that such characters deserve the severest of penalties but in fact they have their punishment in the very deed; inwardly they are putrid and miserable. Of course society has to curb their evil to protect its members, but no punishment imposed on them can equal the death-in-life they bring upon themselves. Oscar Wilde presented an apt metaphor in The Picture of Dorian Gray.

THE EPISTEMIC SPHERE

Coming to the epistemic sphere, let me start by making a shockingly paradoxical assertion. Strictly speaking, no one ever can understand an other one. The phrase ‘understanding others’ which in the moral sphere can be given a meaningful and vital sense, in the epistemic sphere is strictly nonsensical. The understanding is not a neutral vacant receptacle into which ready-made meanings can be fed from the outside as a warehouse receives ready-made products from the outside. Locke’s basic error – which was to breed much nonsense when the Empiricists naively took it literally, was to assume that the mind passively received what was imported into it from outside. The apt metaphor for the mind is not the warehouse nor the blank slate, but the living body which processes what it receives from the outside and fashions it and integrates it into its own organs and activities.

Strictly, the mind does not understand the other but understands its own interpretation of what it gets from the other. This is true on all levels of interaction between the sensate individual and the individual’s surroundings. What we take to be simple perception is an actively fashioned interpretation of the dumb sensuous inflow. On all levels all understanding is active, creative interpretation.

Apart from empy formalities and trivial sayings that are spoken almost unconsciously, every sentence issues from the speaker’s subjective world, drenched in associations and emotive hues, trailing undertones and overtones of its own; it is received in a different subjective world to be clothed in different associations and overtones and undertones. ‘To understand the other’ is a fiction, an empty shell. We do not, we cannot, understand what is spoken to us. What reaches our understanding is our interpretation of what is spoken to us. Hence the misunderstandings and failures to understand when the subjective worlds of speaker and auditor are wide apart.

Moreover, language, any language, is basically a skeletal system of generalities. For every individual and for every group of people the skeleton is fleshed out by living experience. But the words of any living language have to remain fluid to fit the nuances and peculiarities of concrete instances, no two of which are perfectly identical. Hence Leibniz’ dream of a ‘universal characteristic’ remains an unattainable dream. Its putative realization in the system of Symbolic Logic, like its predecessor the system of numbers, gains universality and fixity at the cost of barrenness. When it borrows actual content from outside the formal system the outcome is necessarily an approximation. Scientists generally slur this truth but two great thinkers of the twentieth century saw it clearly. Wittgenstein concluded that Logic is empty, “says nothing” and Einstein insightfully said: “As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain, as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality.”

D. R. Khashaba

January 15, 2018

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Friday, January 12, 2018

LIMITS OF EPISTEMOLOGY


LIMITS OF EPISTEMOLGY

D. R. Khashaba

Epistemology is a misnomer. It is not a logos (science, theory) of Knowledge but of the paraphernalia of Knowledge. Knowledge herself is a goddess that does not admit humans to her holy of holies. Nothing can explain how we know anything, how we understand, how we are conscious, how we have a mind: all of that is one and the same mystery, which in turn is one with the ultimate mystery of Reality.

The academic discipline of Epistemology is, strictly speaking, a science since its subject matter is the actual or potential objective products of knowledge and the actual or potential instances of acquiring knowledge. It has numerous branches, each branch including several sub-disciplines. Scholarly work in this field will continue indefinitely since its subject matter can never be exhausted. All of that is a good, valuable addition to our treasury of mathemata, but it can never so much as approach the core of the mystery of knowledge because that is one with the mystery of the mind, which in turn is one with the ultimate mystery of Reality. (I will not apologize for saying it over and over again.)

Plato permitted himself several ventures into the theory of knowing. In the Meno and the Phaedrus he initiated three such ventures. (1) He defined knowledge as true opinion accompanied by a rational account (logos). In the Theaetetus this same definition was considered and found unsatisfactory. (2) He introduced the method of hypotheses which was further developed in the Phaedo. Its application in the ‘final argument’ for the immortality of the soul was confessed, along with the other arguments, to be non-conclusive. Moreover in the Republic (533c) we are told that the hypotheses underlying any philosophical statement must be demolished by dialectic. (3) In Phaedrus, 264-266 he outlined the method of collection and division. He experimented with this method in the late dialogues, Sophist, Statesman. Philebus, modifying the method as he went on, till in the Philebus it is no longer recognizable as the method described in the Phaedrus. Clearly all of this is far removed from the insight into the mystery of epistêmê shown in winged passages in the Phaedo (79d), the Symposium (210e-212a), and that oracular gem in Republic (490a-b). The Divided Line in the Republic (509d-511e) ranges the planes of cognition, ascending from sensuous perception to philosophical understanding. — When it comes to definite doctrines, determinate theories, we find Plato revising himself, contradicting himself, what he affirms in a given context he rejects in another context, to the delight of erudite scholars who revel in discovering such contradictions and inconsistencies.

All of the above-noted thought-sallies of Plato were adventures on the outskirts of knowledge, but Plato was not deluded into thinking that he had an answer to the question What is knowledge? In the same dialogue, the Meno, where he was proposing the definition of knowledge as true opinion accompanied by a logos and advancing the method of hypotheses, in that same dialogue he introduced the doctrine of anamnesis, acknowledging that knowledge is a mystery beyond our ken.

ANNEX – a fragment

The mystifying onar anti oneiratos (dream for a dream’) in Theaetatus 201d-292c, though Socrates presents it as an oddity, is amenable to a Platonic interpretation amounting to this: Every explanation is composed of unexplained elements; all reasoning rests on unreasoned grounds; when we come to explain those unexplained grounds we advance fresh ‘given’ stepping stones. The building blocks of all epistêmê have to be elements taken in good faith. The premises of the Aristotelian syllogism are, strictly speaking, dogmara. In the method of hypotheses introduced by Plato in the Meno and further developed in the Phaedo the ground hypothesis must not be questioned; when questioned it has to be supported by a more basic hypothesis taken in good faith. All of this is strictly in harmony with (1) the Socratic elenchus where the Form examined remains undefined, finally intelligible in its own self-evidence in the intelligence that gave it birth in the first place; (2) Plato’s insistence in the Republic that the grounds of any philosophical statement be destroyed by dialectic (Republic, 533c); (3) Socrates’ resorting – when asked to elucidate the Form of the Good – to thr simile of the sun. All of this is part and parcel of the Socratic principle of philosophical ignorance — the wisest among humans is he who, like Socrates, understands that he knows nothing. All knowledge, human knowledge in its entirety, is a cobweb woven of the substance of dreams. The only understanding that is not vain conceit is that indicated by the Delphic oracle: gnôthi seauton.

D. R. Khashaba

January 11, 2018

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Monday, January 08, 2018

IN PRAISE OF IGNORANCE


IN PRAISE OF IGNORANCE

D. R. Khashaba

In September last, on my ninetieth birthday, I posted a blog titled “Ninety” as a farewell to ‘doing philosophy’. Though I continued to post blogs and have even been flirting with the idea of yet another book on Plato, I looked to all of that as no more than ‘parerga’ to idle away my remaining days. But when I came across an article by Professor Alan Lightman reviewing Exact Thinking in Demented Times by Professor Karl Sigmund on the Vienna Circle I felt that I had struck gold and could not let the chance slip away. Here, clearly, succinctly, and precisely are set views that I have been combating in all my writings. Here I have the opportunity to set out my opposed views in some order, not by way of commenting on the rich review article but by way of answering the foundational beliefs and presuppositions of the Logical Positivists’ credo as so plainly expressed here. https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/thinking-big-thoughts-about-the-boundaries-of-science/2018/01/05/4efb4538-ce17-11e7-81bc-c55a220c8cbe_story.html?utm_term=.c853efc90ef0

First an explanatory note to ward off a possible misunderstanding. The Vienna Circle consisted of a group of mathematicians, physicists and philosophers coming together to brood “over such questions as the nature of science, the nature of philosophy and the dividing line between the two”. This innocent-looking delineation of purpose hides a damaging presupposition; not that there is anything wrong with mathematicians, physicists, and philosophers coming together to exchange views; any broadening of one’s outlook is beneficial, but to suppose that these intellectuals working in their diverse fields can somehow cooperate to reach answers to any common questions leads to serious error on all sides. More of this in what follows; indeed this is the bottom line of this paper and cannot be adequately treated in a preliminary note. I will hereunder reproduce salient statements from Professor Lightman’s article and then give my answer.

LIGHTMAN: “The distinguished members brooded over such questions as the nature of science, the nature of philosophy and the dividing line between the two”.

KHASHABA: Between science and philosophy there is not a dividing line but an impassable chasm. Science and philosophy are two radically distinct domains dealing with two entirely separate realms of being. The defining law of science is objectivity. Philosophy proper is exclusively concerned with the subjective. The first to see this clearly and state it explicitly was Socrates, at any rate Plato’s Socrates as represented in the Phaedo in a crucial passage (95e-102a) that scholars have been strangely blind to. By disregarding this Socratic insight both scientists and philosophers erred gravely: philosophers made fools of themselves by trying to reach factual knowledge about the natural world and scientists often produced absurdities as soon as they ventured beyond their proper domain. (See my “Stephen Hawking’s Bad Metaphysics”.) Kant rediscovered the Socratic insight but has been grossly misunderstood: I will revert to this further below.

L.: … said Schlick: ‘The scientist seeks the truth (the correct answers) and the philosopher attempts to clarify the meaning (of the questions)’; what meaningful statements can be made about the world; and the challenges of language itself in describing the world.”

Kh.: So many issues are raised in the above-quoted lines. I will try to be brief, leaving side-issues untouched. ‘Truth’ in the common acceptation of the term has no relevance in philosophy which is concerned with metaphysical reality (see further below). Although the clarification of language (meanings) in general is a role of philosophy, science alone has to elucidate the meaning of its own concepts and – more importantly – its own questions.

L.: “The members of the Vienna Circle were not shy about asking the big questions, nor giving their answers. We still struggle with the aftermath.”

Kh.: The ‘big questions’ relating to the physical universe when formulated in scientific terms and dealt with by scientific methods are the prerogative of science. But questions about ultimate origins, ultimate ends, and ultimate values cannot be dealt with by scientific methods. When scientists deal with these questions they can only return absurdities. hen philosophers deal with these they produce myths, myths that ease our yearning for understanding; but when philosophers go on to assert that their mythical representations are ‘true’ of the actual world they commit the sin that has brought philosophy to its present-day disgrace. Science gives us ‘knowledge’ of appearances, in the strict sense of the term, as what appears to us and our instruments, but of the core of things we know nothing. This is what both Socrates and Kant tried to make us see, (More of this below.)

L.: “… the members of the Circle … were unified in rejecting the abstractions of the great German philosopher Immanuel Kant, who proposed that there were things in themselves outside perception, and knowledge independent of human experience.”

Kh.: I am completely baffled by the failure of eminent thinkers, among both scientists and philosophers, to understand Kant. Kant harmed himself by burying his core insight under the imposing architectonic of his transcendental system. The core insight is a (conscious or unconscious) revival of the insight in the Socratic-Platonic doctrine of Forms and it is as simple as it is profound. The impressions that come to us through our senses (the ‘ideas’ of Locke) are in themselves and by themselves mute, meaningless, until the Forms (Plato) or Concepts of the Understanding (Kant), engendered in the mind and by the mind, are applied to them; then and only then do they have meaning for us. A thing in the natural world is for us the sum of the sensuous impressions that come to us from the thing. What is behind or beneath those impressions we never know. Only in one place do we know that hidden noumenon: that one place is our own internal reality. All our sophisticated ‘knowledge’ of the natural world – galaxies, electrons, neuron – rests finally on observation of impressions coming to us from that world. That is the meaning of Kant’s assertion that all empirical knowledge is knowledge of phenomena. To say that Kant “proposed that there were things in themselves outside perception” is a distortion of Kant’s position. With the sole exception of our own inner subjective reality, the inner reality of things is never and can never be known to us. To say that the sum of impressions that come to us from a thing is all there is in that thing, is to pass judgment on what we do not know and can never know. Our inner reality is not “outside experience”; it is the ground, fount, condition of all experience. Let me stop here, else I would be rewriting the Critique of Pure Reason all over again.

L.: “Schlick and Hahn and Carnap proclaimed, instead, that all our beliefs should be testable and verified, a philosophical theory that became known as ‘logical positivism.’”

Kh.: Kh.: Our ‘beliefs’ about the natural world should certainly be empirically testable, but statements relating to values, ends, and ultimate realities lie outside the jurisdiction of empirical science. Professor Lightman says as much in a bracketed statement following the above-quoted lines.

L.: “At age 29, Wittgenstein wrote to Russell (perhaps the greatest living Western philosopher at the time), ‘I think I have solved the problems once and for all.’ By ‘problems,’ the young Wittgenstein meant all the problems of philosophy.”

Kh.: Wittgenstein’s philosophical career was as tragic as his personal life. He ‘solved’ all philosophical problems by declaring that all philosophical statements arise out of ignorance of the principles of Symbolism and out of misuse of language. When he first met Russell both of them had high hopes. But soon their positions diverged to the point of becaming completely opposed. Wittgenstein’s Tractatus concluded that all logic was empty, says nothing. Although Wittgenstein stated that conclusion clearly and emphatically, Russell wrote an enthusiastic introduction that was actually a complete misunderstanding and misrepresentation of the young man’s position, as Wittgenstein himself said. Later, in My Philosophical Development, Russell expressed his bitter disappointment in Wittgenstein and showed that neither of them could understand the other. In my opinion, Wittgenstein had an inborn yearning for metaphysical understanding that was suppressed by the teaching of Frege and Russell. I venture to suggest that had Wittgenstein studied Philosophy in Berlin instead of Engineering he would have had a richer and happier philosophical career.

Professor Lightman concludes by relating a freak incident in which Schlick was involved, then remarks, “It was an illogical act but one we can understand.” I find this insightful but refrain from adding to the length of this paper by commenting.

D. R. Khashaba

January 8, 2018

Posted to https://philosophia937.wordpress.com and Http://khashaba.blogspot.com

Thursday, December 28, 2017

NEUROLOGY AND THE MIND


NEUROLOGY AND THE MIND

D. R. Khashaba

Neurologists are under a very serious illusion. They think that neurology studies the mind or at any rate can lead them to understanding the mind. The mind cannot be the object of any science for the very simple reason that the essence of the mind is subjectivity while the first principle of science is objectivity. Not even philosophers can study the mind. This sounds like a paradox but when we consider it more closely it appear more like a truism. Philosophers study the works of the mind and the workings of the mind. But the mind is the active principle behind all that which is an ultimate mystery like the mystery of Being (i.e., ultimate Reality). When I think, when I am moved emotionally, when I experience joy or grief, I am conscious of the works and the workings of my mind but my mind itself is a principle above and beyond all that.

A while ago I likened the mystery of the mind to the mystery of Being, but there is something wrong with that statement. I would rather say that the mystery of the mind and the mystery of Being are not two but one. Being, Mind, Life are, like the Trinity of Christian theology, one in three and three in one. Indeed the Christian Trinity could be seen as a fine allegory of ultimate Reality that has been spoilt by the gross interpretations of clever but narrow and shallow intellects.

Incidentally, psychologists in thinking that their branch of study is enhanced by adopting the methods and techniques and, more seriously, the approach of science, are deluded. The more of a science psychology becomes the farther it is removed from the living reality of the psuchê (psyche) and the more raducakky ut is denied insight into the inner reality of a human being.

D. R. Khashaba

December 28, 2017

Posted to https://philosophia937.wordpress.com and Http://khashaba.blogspot.com

Posted to https://philosophia937.wordpress.com and Http://khashaba.blogspot.com

Thursday, December 21, 2017

DEFINITION OF PHILOSOPHY


DEFINITION OF PHILOSOPHY

D. R. Khashaba

Philosophy cannot be defined by its content or subject-matter like biology or chemistry or history. I have previously said that a philosopher’s whole work is that philosopher’s definition of philosophy. That is so as far as it goes, but it does not give us a general definition of philosophy.

The two statements I made in the lines above – that philosophy cannot be defined by its subject-matter and that each philosopher’s complete work is that philosopher’s definition of philosophy – are two sides of a coin. For, what is the origin, the source, the fount of a philosopher’s work? If it be a genuine philosopher we are speaking about, then there is one valid answer to the question. A genuine philosopher’s whole work stems from that philosopher’s puzzlements.

A philosopher is irked, tormented, by questions — ultimate questions. A philosophymonger who does not suffer under the stranglehold of puzzlements and doubts and who peddles secondhand philosophical merchandise in complete equanimity is a fraud.

A philosopher is a questioner. She or he questions the world, questions herself or himself, questions all received beliefs and inherited usages. Hence a philosopher is a destroyer as Nietzsche said.

There can be no textbook of philosophy as there are textbooks of physics or geology. Philosophy cannot be learned from books. Plato emphatically insisted on this. There is no way for anyone to ‘become’ a philosopher. No one can be a philosopher if not born a philosopher and the born philosopher ‘becomes’ a philosopher by giving way to one’s questionings: in other words, the only way rto ‘become’ a philosopher is to philosophize.

Philosophers write books. What do we get from reading books written by philosophers? A philosopher who presumes to give ‘truths’ ir ‘knowledge’ in her or his book is gravely deluded. The only good you get from reading a philosophy book is to be infected by the philosopher’s puzzlements and questionings and go on to wrestle with the questionings that set the philosopher philosophizing in the first place, impelling you to philosophize for yourself.

To be well-read in philosophy is no guarantee that you become a philosopher. Reading one philosophy book may initiate you to philosophy while reading a whole library of philosophy books may leave you with that ignorance that Socrates called the worst ignoramce, thinking that you know while you know not.

Dear Reader, these are stray thoughts strewn haphazardly without order or forethought. If they annoy you, I apologize; if they set you puzzling, I will have been well rewarded.

D. R. Khashaba

December 21, 2017

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Saturday, December 09, 2017

WHAT IS INTELLIGENCE?


WHAT IS INTELLIGENCE?

D. R. Khashaba

AI and IT experts speak glibly of intelligent machines and of robots that will replace humans. Be that as it may, but let us at least think a little about the words we use.

It is a corruption of language to speak of a machine as intelligent. I know that our scientists and experts have their definitions, their technically refined definitions, but all of those definitions specify external marks that cannot reveal the essence of what we are speaking about. And the more sophisticated and intricate the definitions are, the more distant they are from the true nature, the inner nature, of the thing defined.

The understanding of a thing, I will not say comes from, but is none other than the light that shines from the self-evidence of what we are speakingabout. Understanding is a live experience. You understand when you have no need for any definition or explanation or proof.

I repeat: it is a corruption of language to speak of a machine as intelligent because the first mark of intelligence is spontaneity, and I find ‘spontaneity’ here more telling than ‘autonomy’. Our intelligence is spontaneity; our free will is spontaneity.

When I speak of intelligence in a human being or in any sensate being, I am not referring to the intelligence of an Einstein or of an Alan Turing, but of the intelligence of my granddaughter’s cats, each of which has a marked character and temper and caprices of her own and does what she does because — because of no because, but just that it suits her.

Lessing, if my memory serves me right, said “ Kein Mensch muss müssen”. In four little words he put his finger on the holy of holies of humanity, or rather of all life. Had Descartes had a pet cat he would not have committed the idiocy of saying that animals are automata.

The essence of life is intelligence and spontaneity, All ltfe is intelligent in a sense of intelligence that AI and IT experts and all the geniuses of physics and astrophysics and robot builders cannot comprehend because they seek intelligence where there is no intelligence. Where there is no life there no intelligence can be.

Dear Reader, I write in anger. Where there is anger there will be error. But if all my statements are proven to be riddled with contradiction I will still aver that in my error there is more truth that is in all the works of all Laplaces and all Turings put together.

D. R. Khashaba

December 9, 2017

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Friday, December 08, 2017

LIMITS OF SCIENCE


LIMITS OF SCIENCE

D. R. Khashaba

The title of Martin Rees’ paper came to me like a pleasant surprise. https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2017/12/limits-of-science/547649/ Throughout two decades in book after book and essay after essay I have been trying to drive home that philosophers and scientists should have learnt long ago from Plato and Kant — a simple lesson teaching that the very objectivity of science makes questions about the inner reality of things lie beyond yhe competence of science. I am writing this having read no more than the headlines of Rees’ paper which I will now proceed to read and see if I have any comment to make or anything to add but I conjecture that Rees’ position will not be as radical as Plato’s or Kant’s.

Rees starts by quoting a statement of Einstein’s that I have repeatedly cited. As I see it, the comprehensibility of the universe suggests that mind (intelligence) is an aspect of ultimate reality. But that does not make that ultimate reality accessible to the objective approach of science. The objectivity of science limits it, as Kant said, to dealing with things as they show themselves in human experience, that is, to dealing with phenomena.

I do not want to repeat yet once more my insistence (following Socrates) on keeping science and philosophy unmixed since science and philosophy deal with radically distinct questions. (See “Stephen Hawking’s Bad Metaphysics”.)

Regrettably my conjecture proved true. There is not much congruity between Rees’ approach and mine. To obtain “the enlightenment that scientists seek” scientists must learn to ask the questions that science cannot answer. Wisdom is not the fruit of much learning, especially not scientific learning.

I resist a temptation to take up once more the distinction between knowledge and understanding. But let this suffice for now.

D. R. Khashaba

December 8, 32017

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