Inscrutable Ideas

Link post

David Chap­man has is­sued some­thing of a challenge to those of us think­ing in the space of what he calls the meta-ra­tio­nal, many peo­ple call the post-mod­ern, and I call the holonic. He thinks we can and should be less opaque, more com­pre­hen­si­ble, and less in­scrutable (speci­fi­cally less in­scrutable to ra­tio­nal­ism and ra­tio­nal­ists).

Ig­no­rant, ir­rele­vant, and in­scrutable
I have changed my mind. It should go with­out say­ing that ra­tio­nal­ity is bet­ter than ir­ra­tional­ity. But now I re­al­ize…mean­ing­ness.com

I’ve thought about this is­sue a lot. My pre­vi­ous blog­ging pro­ject hit a dead end when I reached the point of need­ing to ex­plain holonic think­ing. Around this time I con­tracted ob­scu­ran­tism and spent sev­eral months only shar­ing my philo­soph­i­cal writ­ing with a few peo­ple on Face­book in barely de­ci­pher­able stream-of-con­scious­ness posts. But dur­ing this time I also worked on de­vel­op­ing a ped­a­gogy, man­i­fested in a self-help book, that would al­low peo­ple to fol­low in my foot­steps even if I couldn’t ex­plain my ideas. That pro­ject pro­duced three things: an un­pub­lished book draft, one mantra of ad­vice, and a re­al­iza­tion that the way can only be walked, not fol­lowed. So when I re­turned to blog­ging here on Medium my goal was not to be de­liber­ately ob­scure, but also not to be re­li­ably un­der­stood. I had come to terms with the idea that my thoughts might never be fully ex­pli­ca­ble, but I could at least still write for those with­out too much dust in their eyes.

The trou­ble is that holonic thought is nec­es­sar­ily in­scrutable with­out the use of holons, and his­tory shows this makes it very difficult to teach or ex­plain holonic think­ing to oth­ers. For ex­am­ple, the first wave of post-mod­ernists like Fou­cault, Der­rida, and Ly­otard ap­plied Hei­deg­ger’s phe­nomenolog­i­cal episte­mol­ogy to de­velop com­plex, multi-faceted un­der­stand­ings of his­tory, liter­a­ture, and aca­demic cul­ture. Un­for­tu­nately they did this in an en­vi­ron­ment of high mod­ernism where clas­si­cal ra­tio­nal­ism was taken for granted, so they failed to no­tice they were build­ing off the strengths of mod­ernism even as they de­rided its weak­nesses. Con­se­quently they fo­cused so much on teach­ing the sub­jec­tivity of ex­pe­rience that they for­got to im­press that it was sub­jec­tive ex­pe­rience of an ex­ter­nal re­al­ity and left their stu­dents with an in­tel­lec­tual tra­di­tion now widely re­garded as use­less for any­thing other than sta­tus sig­nal­ing.

In com­par­i­son Bud­dhist tra­di­tions have, to the ex­tent that bodhi is syn­ony­mous with meta-ra­tio­nal­ity and holonic think­ing, done a bet­ter job of teach­ing post-mod­ernism than the post-mod­ernists did. Indic philo­soph­i­cal tra­di­tions hit upon post-mod­ern ideas at least as early as the Ax­ial Age and they be­came cen­tral to Bud­dhist philos­o­phy around 200 CE. I’d ar­gue the su­tras of Bud­dhism do no bet­ter than the texts of the post-mod­ernists at teach­ing holon-level think­ing, but over the cen­turies Bud­dhist schools also de­vel­oped tantric in­struc­tion that cre­ated en­vi­ron­ments in which prac­ti­tion­ers were able to play and later work with holons. It ap­pears to me these “es­o­teric” tech­niques tapped in to the same de­vel­op­men­tal psy­chol­ogy op­er­at­ing in per­sonal growth and in do­ing so cre­ated lineages that provide paths to holon-level think­ing that peo­ple tra­verse to this day.

I sus­pect the key differ­en­tia­tor of the ex­pe­ri­en­tial learn­ing of per­sonal growth and tantra from the tex­tual learn­ing of academia and su­tra is the fo­cus on gno­sis over episteme, and this sug­gests why the meta-ra­tio­nal is in­scrutable from ra­tio­nal­ism, but I’ll do one bet­ter and prove it. To do that it will suffice to show that there ex­ists at least one meta-ra­tio­nal idea that can­not be made scrutable to ra­tio­nal­ism. I choose meta-ra­tio­nal episte­mol­ogy.

Ra­tional/​mod­ern/​sys­tem-re­la­tion­ship episte­mol­ogy aims to be con­sis­tent and com­plete, mean­ing it pro­duces a com­plete on­tol­ogy. To the ex­tent that there is any dis­agree­ment over sys­tem-re­la­tion­ship episte­mol­ogy it is dis­agree­ment over how to com­pute cor­rect on­tol­ogy. Meta-ra­tio­nal/​post-mod­ern/​holonic episte­mol­ogy de­nies the pos­si­bil­ity of a com­plete on­tol­ogy via con­sis­tent episte­mol­ogy be­cause episte­mol­ogy nec­es­sar­ily in­fluences on­tol­ogy. That is to say, even if some episte­mol­ogy is con­sis­tent, it can­not be com­plete be­cause it can­not prove its own con­sis­tency, thus no con­sis­tent episte­mol­ogy can pro­duce com­plete on­tol­ogy. In­stead we might have a com­plete but in­con­sis­tent meta-episte­mol­ogy that chooses be­tween con­sis­tent episte­molo­gies in differ­ent situ­a­tions based on telos, like a de­sire for cor­re­spon­dence to re­al­ity or tel­ling an in­ter­est­ing story, but telos asks us to make an ax­iolog­i­cal eval­u­a­tion, not an epistemic one, and thus we are forced to ad­mit that even our con­sis­tent and com­plete meta-episte­mol­ogy needs a free vari­able, hence can­not ac­tu­ally be com­plete.

In this way holonic episte­mol­ogy is nec­es­sar­ily in­scrutable to sys­tem-re­la­tion­ship episte­mol­ogy be­cause it ex­plic­itly de­mands the lat­ter do some­thing it ex­plic­itly can­not. To be fair, sys­tem-re­la­tion­ship episte­mol­ogy does the same thing to pre-ra­tio­nal/​tra­di­tional/​sys­tem episte­mol­ogy by de­mand­ing con­sis­tency that the lat­ter can­not tol­er­ate be­cause it would vi­o­late its in­ter­nal com­plete­ness, but I think this is in­fre­quently ac­knowl­edged be­cause if you grew up in the shadow of the mod­ern world you prob­a­bly didn’t no­tice when moder­nity de­manded this of you. And un­less you learned to ig­nore the prob­lem, the mod­ern world con­stantly gives you op­por­tu­ni­ties to ex­pe­rience the sys­tem-re­la­tion­ship level of com­plex­ity and ob­tain gno­sis of it. But ob­tain­ing gno­sis of the post-mod­ern and holonic seems to re­quire that a great tragedy be­fall you or that you have enough ded­i­ca­tion to tol­er­ate the pain of find­ing it, so be­yond bet­ter build­ing the episteme of holons for those few with more than doxa of them, I’m doubt­ful be­ing less in­scrutable will ac­com­plish much of what Chap­man seems to hope it will.