Thursday, December 24, 2015



D. R. Khashaba

[I hsve been wrestling with the idea of a new book. I don’t know if I will ever finish it. I thought of writing it in instalments to be posted on my blog. One day I may collect and arrange these papers for publication as a book.]

Eimi . (( am.) The beginning and end of all philosophy is contained in this little word. Descartes needlessly said “I think, therefore I am”. My inner being is the one thing that I know immediately and indubitably. Other than this all is interpretation, from the simplest sensation to the latest findings of astrophysics. That green leaf before me is only a green leaf for me when my mind picks it up as a green leaf. That the sun will rise tomorrow is a bundle of interpretations woven together.

I imagine that when I was born I found myself swimming in an ocean of colours and sounds that were not yet for me colours or sounds. (Strictly, there was yet no I to find and no self to be found.) Gradually the nebula of colours and sounds began to settle down into distinct things. In time a collection of those distinct things formed a relatively permanent central group that I separated as myself as distinct from my varying surroundings. Those things, the more permanent and the for-me-less-permanent, were given names and acquired meaning for me.

Meaning? That is a whole unfathomable world in a word. When human beings created language they created meaning. The birth of language proper – not merely gesturing or signalling by voice or motion, but the naming of things and actions – is the birth of conceptual thought. The creative mind that first named a thing initiated the world of thought. The world of thought is the specifically human world. As human beings, in our special character as human beings, we live in a world of thought.

The profound insight in Plato’s notion of forms or ideas escapes us just because it is so simple, so basic, so pervasive. Nothing has meaning for us, nothing is for our mind, except through an idea that is totally distinct from the thing. Locke spoke of ideas that came to us through the senses; Hume named these impressions to distinguish them from ideas proper; but these elemental impressions in themselves, apart from a receptive mind, are completely dumb. Nothing is for the mind, nothing id for me, unless my mind give it credence, investing it in a form of the mind’s own creation. We latter-day humans, inheritors of so much thought, are taught the words, but unless the mind ensconce the word in a form creatively flashed by the mind the word remains a dumb tap on the eardrum. Watch the amazement and the glee in the eyes of a twelve-month old child picking up the meaning of a new word.

Thoughts, represented by linguistic forms – words and structures – form the intelligible world in which we have our being as human beings. From the silliest urchin to Stephen Hawking every one of us lives in a private cosmos of thought; from the saintliest soul to the most abominable murderer we all live in worlds of ideas, values, purposes, and ideals, worthy and unworthy. Apart from my biological functions, my instinctive motions, my involuntary reflexes, and habitual acts that have become automatic, everything I do is completely governed by thoughts. I am not speaking of organized thinking, reasoning, or problem solving, but of what is more basic. I love, I hate, I retaliate, I forgive, all in obedience to thoughts, evaluations, principles in my mind.

But these worlds I live in, the private world of thought and the common external world which in its turn only has meaning for me, only has being for me, in virtue of the intelligible forms in which I clothe all things, are all bereft of permanence and bereft of certainty. The world of thought has its being in that I think it, and the being of the external world is an impenetrable mystery. All I know of the external world are fictions projected by the mind on the world. The most advanced physical and astrophysical theories are forms that lend intelligibility to the ultimately unintelligible world. The only thing that I know certainly and immediately is my inner reality out of which all these thoughts, all these interpretations flow; that inner reality I call my mind or my subjectivity; it is not a thing; it is not anywhere and it is not in time; it is purely and simply this creative activity, this spontaneous outflow of thoughts and deeds.

What I have written above will sound enigmatic and meaningless to minds conditioned by the modern positivist outlook to ignore our inner reality. What I have written can only be understood in the light of all I have been writing from my first book onwards and in the light of what I hope to write in the following papers.

Cairo, December 24, 2015.


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