Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Self-Consciousness and Ontological Self-Grounding – A Preamble

"It is almost as if this slippery phenomenon
called "
self-consciousness" lifted itself up
by its own bootstraps, almost as if it made itself
out of nothing." (
Douglas Hofstadter)


In the burgeoning literature devoted to solving Leibniz's famous question "Why is there something rather than nothing?" (for overviews, see Holt 2012; Goldschmidt 2013; Leslie & Kuhn 2013), one popular strategy is to assume that the 'something' is somehow ontologically self-grounding and thus explains its own existence. Influential in this regard were the publications of John Leslie's Value and Existence in 1979 and Robert Nozick's Philosophical Explanations in 1981. Crucial to both is the idea of self-grounding – or to be more precise: explanatory self-subsumption, whereby a law that explains why the world exists explains its own existence as well, thereby offering a total explanation of existence.
Despite this agreement, however, Leslie and Nozick had very different views on what this self-explaining law amounts to. For Leslie, being closer to traditional metaphysics, notably Platonism, the ultimate law is value. According to his "axiarchism", the universe exists because it is good that it exists, and this goodness is ultimately self-explaining because – as Leslie argues – it is good that there is goodness. Nozick, on the other hand, is closer to contemporary theorizing about the logic of possible worlds and formulates his ultimate law as a "principle of fecundity": all logical possibilities (i.e. all possible worlds) exist – a principle that, according to Nozick, is self-subsuming because it too is a logical possibility. As said, both approaches have been influential. Whereas Leslie's emphasis on value as the self-grounding ground of existence has notably influenced Nicholas Rescher, Nozick's principle of fecundity has had a more diffuse and widespread influence in recent theorizing about the existence of multiple worlds.

The absolute-idealist answer to Leibniz's question
It is surprising that although the idea of ontological self-grounding has become a popular answer to Leibniz's question, one important development of that idea has generally been overlooked in the recent literature. I mean the development this idea received in
absolute idealism, where the primordial self-grounding entity – which supports the whole of existence – is identified with self-consciousness. Thus the absolute-idealist answer to Leibniz's question can be summarized as follows: Everything exists because it is thought and/or experienced by an absolute Self who in turn exists because it thinks/experiences itself. Thus it is the Self's awareness of itself that lifts it – and thereby everything else – into existence. The crucial point about self-consciousness (individual human self-consciousness to begin with) is that it has a circular or self-referential structure, like a Russian nesting doll (a matryoshka) containing itself, or a series of such dolls where the smaller ones in turn contain the bigger ones. For absolute idealism, this self-containing structure of self-consciousness amounts to ontological self-grounding. That is to say: self-consciousness exists only because it is conscious of itself – thus it bootstraps itself into existence. We could say that it belongs to the essence of self-consciousness that it realizes itself, where "to realize" means both "to become conscious of" and "to let exist, to make real". Thus in self-consciousness esse and percipi coincide: it exists because it perceives itself. In this way, perhaps, self-consciousness could function as the self-grounding ground of existence as such.

If ontological self-grounding is a legitimate approach to answering Leibniz's question, as philosophers like Leslie and Nozick argue, then the self-grounding structure of self-consciousness must be taken very seriously – especially because self-consciousness is so familiar to us all. Apart from some neo-Humean sceptics, who profess not to know this experience, each of us knows intuitively what it feels like to be him- or herself, to be a self that knows itself as itself. As difficult as it might be to articulate this experience discursively, it is no less difficult to deny that we are all familiar with it in one way or another. I think this familiarity of self-consciousness pleads strongly in its favor as a possible solution to Leibniz's question. For at least with self-consciousness we have a direct experience of it, which cannot be said of the highly abstract and counter-intuitive principles invoked by Leslie and Nozick. With self-consciousness, then, if its self-grounding structure is borne out by closer analysis (a very big "if" I admit), we have at least some kind of empirical evidence that this kind of self-grounding is possible, indeed that it exists within each of us.

Cogito ergo sum?
No doubt there is a close connection here with the Cartesian
cogito ergo sum. Arguably, as Descartes pointed out, the only thing we know absolutely for certain is our own existence, because in our innermost self-consciousness we are immediately present to ourselves. According to Descartes, this absolute self-certainty enables us to non-arbitrarily stop the justificatory regress from reasons to ever more fundamental reasons. To justify our claims, we need premisses – but what justifies these premisses? It is clear that a regress (or vicious circle) ensues if we do not find at least one self-evident premiss, a self-authenticating truth that – so to speak – wears its veracity on its sleeve. It is hard to deny Descartes's insight that at least our own existence is self-evident, and that, in this sense, self-consciousness functions as a first (because self-grounding) ground of rational thought. Now absolute idealism asks: wouldn't it be neat if this capacity of self-consciousness to stop the justificatory regress applies equally to another regress, namely, the ontological regress? This is the regress that threatens when we ask Leibniz's question: Why is there something rather than nothing? What is the ground (cause or reason) of the fact that there is anything at all? If this ground is itself something that exists – and it is hard to see how this could be otherwise, since ex nihilo nihil fit – then its existence too must be explained, so that we must postulate an even more fundamental ground etc. As Nozick curtly put it: "Any factor introduced to explain why there is something will itself be part of the something to be explained." (Nozick 1981: 115)

Thus we are on our way to an ontological regress unless we find some ground of existence that grounds itself as well. Hence, obviously, the focus on ontological self-grounding in philosophers like Leslie and Nozick. Now absolute idealism asks: if self-consciousness stops the justificatory regress, does it perhaps also stop the ontological regress? Does the "ergo" in "cogito ergo sum" signify not just an inferential "therefore" but also a causal "therefore"? Such that I not only know that I exist because I think myself, but also that I exist because I think myself? This, indeed, is the wager of absolute idealism. Note that if this wager pays off, we are in the best epistemic position imaginable, because in that case our self-certainty does not remain just subjective certainty (as with Descartes) but immediately seizes an important objective truth, indeed, it then seizes the truth, i.e. the truth about the absolute, the self-grounding ground of existence as such. But, obviously, this requires a closer analysis of the structure of self-consciousness and a demonstration that this structure is indeed self-grounding, not just epistemically but ontologically as well. From the one we cannot automatically conclude the other; that would be to confuse epistemology with ontology. Ratio cognoscendi and ratio essendi need not coincide. 

A magical matryoshka
So let's take a closer look at the structure of self-consciousness and see if we can make sense of the idea that this structure facilitates ontological self-grounding. As a way into this, consider the metaphor I used earlier to describe the structure of self-consciousness: the Russian nesting doll that – paradoxically – contains itself. Each time one opens the doll one finds the same doll inside and so on ad infinitum. Now stipulate a condition C to the effect that this doll exists if and only if it is contained in a bigger one. Given C, the Russian doll cannot fail to exist – i.e. it exists necessarily – since it is always contained within a bigger one, namely, itself. Now this might all seem too paradoxical and too arbitrary to be taken seriously. Why, after all, would C obtain at all? And how could a Russian doll contain itself? That's obviously absurd. But when it comes to self-consciousness, these things lose a lot of their weirdness (or perhaps the weirdness remains, but we come to see that such a paradoxical entity actually exists). We know, after all, that self-consciousness is such that, in a sense, it contains itself. For to be self-conscious is to be conscious of oneself as self-conscious: I'm aware of myself, and I'm aware of myself as aware of myself. Thus condition C applies trivially to self-consciousness: it exists if and only if is contained within itself – that is to say: it exists if and only if it is conscious of itself. Shouldn't we conclude then that, like the Russian doll under condition C, self-consciousness exists necessarily? And since C follows analytically from the nature of self-consciousness, shouldn't we conclude that the latter is therefore ontologically self-grounding?

Remaining questions
Although it is very difficult to spot the mistake in this reasoning (
I can't, but perhaps I'm missing something), it is nevertheless not entirely convincing. It remains difficult to see how self-consciousness could raise itself into existence out of nothing. After all, ex nihilo nihil fit. Or should we say that such a transition from nothing to something never took place because self-consciousness – given its self-grounding nature – is eternal? That, after all, is what necessary existence usually means: if something cannot fail to exist, it must have existed always, without a beginning in time, and it will continue to exist forever. But if self-consciousness – because of its self-grounding nature – exists eternally, how then is it possible that we as self-conscious beings have emerged in time? Indeed, there is something very problematic about the relation between self-consciousness as the self-grounding ground of existence on the one hand and us empirical selves on the other. For even if individual human self-consciousness turns out to have a self-grounding structure, then that obviously does not tell us much about the self-grounding ground of existence as such. Clearly, none of us has brought himself or the universe into existence. As empirical individuals we are biologically conditioned, brought into existence by others. The self-grounding structure of self-consciousness may give us intuitive access to the kind of ontological self-grounding that can answer Leibniz's question, but to make full sense of this answer we have to generalize beyond ourselves. That is to say: we have to project self-consciousness to something that transcends us, the absolute, the very 'thing' that grounds existence as a whole, including ourselves. What justifies this move? Where do we find the evidence that backs up this 'absolutization' of self-consciousness? Is it possible to conceive of the entire physical universe as existing only in or for some absolute self-consciousness? Isn't consciousness causally dependent on physical reality, i.e. on the brain, to begin with? How to make sense of the mind-body relation within an absolute-idealist framework, where self-consciousness grounds even physical reality? 

Escher's Print Gallery: The observer
is included in the observed picture.
 And, finally, how does the self-grounding structure of individual human self-consciousness relate to the (as yet only hypothetical) absolute self-consciousness? If the latter is the ultimate self-grounding ground of existence, does that mean that – insofar as we are its effects – our individual self-consciousnesses are not truly self-grounding after all? Or can it be argued that individual self-consciousness is intrinsic to the absolute, such that the latter becomes self-aware only through the multiple self-consciousnesses of empirical individuals? These are some of the questions that have to be answered if the absolute-idealist answer to Leibniz's question is to make sense. In the following weeks (or months? or years?) I would like to make a stab at answering them by investigating some of the philosophers who have developed similar ideas. Thus far I have managed to speak about absolute idealism without naming names, but obviously absolute idealism can boast a long tradition in both Western and Eastern philosophy. It is therefore to this tradition that we must turn if we want answers to our questions.

Fichte, Schelling, Hegel
L
ooking at the history of philosophy, we of course find the position of absolute idealism most clearly argued and developed in post-Kantian German idealism, notably in the work of Fichte, Schelling and Hegel. Fichte kicked it off with his discovery (what Dieter Henrich called "Fichte's original insight") that we can only make sense of self-consciousness if we assume that the self does not exist apart from the consciousness it has of itself. As Fichte puts it: "What was I before I came to self-consciousness? The natural answer to this question is: I did not exist at all, for I was not an I. The I exists only insofar as it is conscious of itself." (Quoted in Neuhouser 1990: 46) For Fichte, then, the self exists only because it is conscious of itself, and in this way self-consciousness turns out to be ontologically self-grounding – a state of affairs for which Fichte coined the term "self-positing", saying things like: "The I originally and unconditionally posits its own existence." (Idem: 43) 

Fichte's concept of self-positing
introduced the idea of the onto-
logical self-grounding of self-
consciousness in German idealism.
Subsequently, for Schelling and Hegel, Fichte's discovery of self-positing provided a valuable insight into the nature of "the absolute", i.e. that which conditions everything else but is itself unconditioned. They understood – better perhaps than Fichte himself did – the potential of Fichte's insight as an answer to Leibniz's question. The self as such becomes the self-grounding ground of entire reality: everything that exists turns out to be ontologically dependent on the self-positing of the self. Schelling probably provided the most straightforward expression of this vision when he wrote: "The essence of the I is freedom, that is, it is not thinkable except inasmuch as it posits itself by its own absolute self-power, not, indeed, as any kind of something, but as sheer I... Freedom is only through itself and it encompasses the infinite... For the I, its freedom is neither more nor less than unconditional positing of reality in itself through its own absolute self-power... The I is I everywhere; it fills, as it were, the entire infinity... The I contains all being, all reality." (Schelling 1980: 84, 86, 89)

Absolute idealism in the Vedanta
It is therefore first and foremost to post-Kantian German idealism that we must turn. However, I think it is a mistake to construe absolute idealism narrowly as pertaining only to the philosophies of Fichte, Schelling and Hegel. As a historical fact, absolute idealism was not first discovered by them; rather, it is a tradition of thought that stretches back almost three millennia. The idea of self-consciousness as the self-grounding ground of existence already appears in a semi-philosophically articulated form in the Hinduist philosophy of the Vedanta which derives from the Upanishads (the final part of the religious scriptures of the Vedas). In the Vedanta, Brahman as the ultimate ground of reality is identified with the Atman, the "universal Self" that is supposed to be present at the most fundamental level in each individual self-consciousness. Thus, with the formula "Atman is Brahman" the Vedantic thinkers encapsulated the core idea of absolute idealism, that of an absolute self-consciousness as the ultimate ground of reality, which as such manifests itself in each individual. Individual self-consciousness becomes in this way the privileged route to knowledge of the absolute.  

Adi Shankara (788-820 AD)
As the great Vedantic philosopher Shankara puts it: "[T]he existence of Brahman is known on the ground of its being the Self of every one. For every one is conscious of the existence of his Self, and never thinks "I am not"." (Quoted in Radhakrishnan & Moore 1967: 511) As this quote indicates, Shankara was well aware of the immediate self-certainty of self-consciousness, and anticipated Descartes’s insight into the privileged nature of the cogito as indubitable foundation of all knowledge. Thus Shankara writes: "All means of knowledge exist only as dependent on self-experience and since such experience is its own proof there is no necessity for proving the existence of the self." (Idem: 506) For Shankara, therefore, the absolute certainty of self-consciousness carries over into absolute certainty about the existence of Brahman, the absolute ground of reality. Indeed, according to the Vedanta, this self-certainty is nothing but the absolute certainty of Brahman about itself. When we know Brahman in our self-consciousness, it is really Brahman that knows itself through us. In this way the Vedanta develops the absolute-idealist answer to Leibniz's question: Brahman, as pure self-consciousness, exists simply because it is aware of itself. Thus we find in the Upanishads utterances such as the following: "They say, since men think that, by the knowledge of Brahman, they become all, what, pray, was it that Brahman knew by which he became all? Brahman, indeed, was this in the beginning. It knew itself only as 'I am Brahman'. Therefore it became all." (From the Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upanishad, quoted in Nikhilananda 2003: 191) Here the idea that Brahman bootstraps itself into existence through its awareness of itself is clearly expressed.

The hard problem of consciousness
Finally, there is one other philosophical tradition that I would like to utilize in order to substantiate the absolute-idealist answer to Leibniz's question, namely, the contemporary debate about qualia and the "hard problem of consciousness", i.e. the apparent impossibility to explain qualia in exclusively physical terms. To see the relevance of this, consider the fact that the hard problem of consciousness is sometimes taken as an argument in favor of panpsychism, the doctrine that mind is a fundamental feature of reality and exists throughout the universe (Chalmers 1996; Strawson 2006). Interpreted in this way, the hard problem of consciousness constitutes an important (auxillary) argument in favor of the absolute-idealist answer to Leibniz' question. In following this line of investigation, however, I am decisively stepping outside of the confines of German absolute idealism, because the truth of the matter is that the German idealists had very little of value to say about qualia or – as they called it – the "matter of sensation", to which they generally had a very disparaging attitude. For them, sensation meant first and foremost passivity (external stimulation of the senses) and thus unfreedom, whereas they took freedom or "self-determining activity" to be the true essence of self-consciousness. I think the German idealists were in this regard still very much indebted to the Cartesian attitude to qualia as mere "secondary qualities" lacking any true cognitive content, an attitude that was also prominent in Kant (see Critique of Pure Reason, A28-29, B44-45) and bequeathed by him to his immediate successors in German idealism. In this way, I think, the German idealists missed out on an important piece of evidence for the special nature of self-consciousness as the ultimate ground of reality. It is only with the contemporary debate about the special nature qualia – and its relation to panpsychism – that this evidence is beginning to be sufficiently appreciated.
Baron von Münchhausen pulling him-
self from the swamp by his own hair.
Can self-consciousnss do the same?

Click
here for the follow-up of this article.

References
-Chalmer, David (1996),
The Conscious Mind. Oxford: University of Oxford Press.
-Goldschmidt, Tryon (2013),
The Puzzle of Existence: Why Is There Something Rather Than Nothing? Routledge, New York.
-Holt, Jim (2013),
Why Does The World Exist? One Man's Quest for the Big Answer. Profile Books, London.
-Leslie, J. (1979),
Value and Existence. Rowman and Littlefield, Totowa.
-Leslie, J. & Kuhn, R.L. (2013),
The Mystery of Existence. Wiley-Blackwell, Chichester/West Sussex.
-Nikhilananda, S. (ed.) (2003),
The Principal Upanishads. Dover Publications, Mineola N.Y.
-Nozick, Robert (1981),
Philosophical Explanations. Belknap Press, Cambridge Mass.
-Radhakrishnan, S. & Moore, C.A. (1967),
A Sourcebook in Indian Philosophy. Princeton University Press.
-Schelling, F.W.J. (1980), "
Of the I as Principle of Philosophy, or On the
Unconditional in Human Knowledge", in: Schelling, F.W.J. (1980), The Unconditional in Human Knowledge: Four Early Essays, 1794-1796. Translation and commentary by Fritz Marti. Associated University Presses, Cranbury, New Jersey.
-Strawson, G. (2006), Consciousness and Its Place in Nature: Does Physicalism Entail Panpsychism? Imprint Academic: Exeter.

10 comments:

  1. Hi. My comments are:

    1. It seems like in regard to

    "Everything exists because it is thought and/or experienced by an absolute Self who in turn exists because it thinks/experiences itself. Thus it is the Self's awareness of itself that lifts it – and thereby everything else – into existence."

    A. This is similar to the other ontological self-grounding ideas that there has to be something (in this case the "absolute Self" and its self-consciousness) that defines itself (e.g., it thinks or experiences itself) and thereby gives itself existence. This self-defining entity is at the base of existence and everything else is derived from this self-defining entity. This has to be in order to prevent the infinite regress or infinite circle.

    B. A lot depends on what is meant by thought and experience. Does this have to mean thoughts in a mind like ours? Can some non-thought-like property allow self-definition?

    2. Like you, I think to answer the question "Why is there something rather than nothing?", we have to answer the question of why a thing in general exists without going through an infinite regress. For instance, why does a book exist? Some might say it exists because of what's inside like the pages, ink and cover. What's inside these? Atoms? To avoid the infinite regress, there has to be something that exists that has absolute nothing further/smaller inside. An existent entity with absolute nothing inside would seem to be just a surface composed of no smaller subunits. I think this is the ontologically self-defining entity. I think I've posted here before and at the everything list that a thing exists if it is a grouping or relationship defining what is contained within. The grouping is equivalent to a surface, edge or boundary which gives substance and existence to the thing.

    3. If we consider the alleged "absolute lack-of-all", this situation would be the all, or entirety of everything that is present. All and entirety are groupings/relationships defining what is contained within and thus the alleged "absolute lack-of-all" is, when looked at differently, an existent entity. I think this is the ontological self-grounding entity out of which all else is made.

    4. What the above means is that the reason we've had a hard time answering the question "Why is there something rather than nothing?" is because of a language difficulty relating to our bad assumption that what we've always considered to be the "absolute lack-of-all" is the lack of all existent entities or "nothing". It itself is an existent entity or "something".

    To self-promote a little, I've got a summary of this at:
    sites.google.com/site/whydoesanythingexist

    Thanks!

    Roger

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Roger,

      Thanks for your comments and your interesting remarks about your own ideas. When you describe your concept of an ultimate existent that cannot be decomposed further you sound very like Aristotle when he argues that substance must be ultimate. Have you ever thought of connecting your ideas to Aristotelian ontology?
      As for your question, if the absolute self-conscious thinks thoughts and has experiences like we do, I must confess that I have no clue, but I am inclined to the idea that the universe is aware of itself on many different levels and in many different ways, including by means of human self-consciousness, but for example also animal awareness and perhaps even alien awareness. So that if we are conscious of ourselves it is really the universe which by means of us is aware of itself...

      Delete
  2. Peter,

    Hi. While I've read some philosophy about the areas related to "Why is there something rather than nothing?", mereology, objects, etc., I can't say I know much at all about general philosophy, like that of Aristotle, so I've never thought of connecting my thinking to Aristotelian ontology. But, based on your comment, I'll read up on it. Thanks! In regard to the question "Why is there something rather than nothing?", my view has to been to read enough philosophy and physics to realize that no one else has any satisfying (for me) answers and then work on it on my own. At least on this question, I think amateurs have as good a shot as academics since no one basically has any idea.

    Also, I agree with you that because humans, animals and possibly aliens are part of the universe, then one can say that the universe itself, through us, is self-aware. But, to build on that a little:

    1. If the universe brings itself into existence by awareness of itself, this seems like the infinite regress/vicious circle thing? But, I didn't follow all of your argument, so you may have countered this point.

    2. I think that human, animal and alien self-awareness is based on material processes occurring in the brain or some where. To me, material processes just boil down to properties of existent entities and their interactions, so self-awareness also boils down to this. In that way, I think the absolute self, whatever it is, could be self-aware by way of its own physical properties and may not need higher-level thought processes.

    Anyways, I like your blog and find your ideas very interesting. Have a good weekend!

    Roger

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Roger,

      There is a facebook group especially devoted to discussing the question: "Why is there something rather than nothing?" Here is the link: https://www.facebook.com/groups/whyiswhatis/

      You are warmly invited to join and join the discussions! We would love to hear more of your views. Also you can post a link to your blog there if you like.

      I agree that no one really has a clue why there is something rather than nothing... As William James said, with respect to this question "we are all beggars"...
      You are correct that there is a circularity involved in self-consciousness as self-grounding/self-causing... But this is precisely what allows it (possibly) to answer Leibniz's question. It seems clear to me that the only way to avoid the regress is to assume that there is a primordial 'something' that not only explains the universe but also explains its own existence. Here self-consciousness is very suggestive because it obviously has a circular, self-referential structure: I'm not just aware of myself, I'm also aware that I am aware of myself etc. Also, and this is what Fichte argued, the self cannot exist apart from the consciousness it has of itself (otherwise self-consciousness becomes inexplicable). But this means that the self only comes into existence when it becomes self-aware. Thus we have a relation of reciprocal dependence: the act of self-awareness presupposes a self as its agent, but the self as agent already presupposes the act of self-awareness. Here too then we have a circularity in self-consciousness. Now concerning any other thing such circularities woul be enough reason to say that such things are paradoxical and therefore impossible. But with self-consciousness we immediately know that it exists because obviously we are self-conscious. My guess is that this circularity in self-consciousness is precisely what allows it to explain its own existence and thereby to answer Leibniz's question...
      As for the relation between 'mind' and 'matter', it is clear that if this approach is to work we cannot view consciousness as dependent on physical reality (the brain to begin with). Rather we have to revere that relation, such that matter turns out to be a manifestation of consciousness; this of course is precisely what idealism means. Here, I think, Russellian monism is very important, about which I will publish a blog piece in the near future (I hope). Here are some interesting links about Russellian monism:
      http://www.scribd.com/doc/205699972/What-is-Russellian-monism-Torin-Alter-and-Yujin-Nagasawa#scribd
      http://philpapers.org/browse/russellian-monism

      Have a nice weekend and greetings,
      Peter

      Delete
    2. Peter,

      Thanks for the Facebook site! I'll go there after this comment.
      I totally agree with you that there has to be

      "a primordial 'something' that not only explains the universe but also explains its own existence."

      because, if not, you get the infinite regress. But, we'll probably end up disagreeing on what that primordial something is. It sounds like you've got a good argument for its being the self-consciousness of the absolute Self. My view is that the primordial something is what we've previously called the "absolute lack-of-all". I think we've been incorrect to think that this situation is the lack of all existent entities because it itself is an existent entity as mentioned in my first comment, above. I'd be okay with self-consciousness being it if I could just visualize what it is in material terms. I'm not sure if I want to break away from my materialistic/naturalistic leanings yet to get to that point.

      I'm still having a little bit of trouble visualizing your argument about the self-referencing of self-awareness. But, it sounds kind of similar to the idea of Russell's Paradox about the set, R, of all sets that are not members of themselves. My thinking about it was was that R didn't even exist until after its membership list of elements was completely defined, which means that R can't be a member of itself. While I'd have to think about it more, it sounds similar to being "aware that I am aware of myself". Can awareness of being aware of myself really be included in myself? But, I'll have to think about this more.

      Sometimes, I wonder how much it matters what the primordial something is. Primordial something is just a name for an existent entity. This entity is at the basis of our universe. If we can figure out the properties of this entity, maybe we could build a model of the universe and eventually make testable predictions. I like this idea of transitioning metaphysics into physics because it offers a way of actually testing things.

      See you!

      Roger

      Delete
    3. Peter,

      Hi. I went to your Facebook site and requested to join the group. Thank you for the invitation! I look forward to the discussions!

      Roger

      Delete
  3. Hi, nice work with this topics.
    Did you ever got into buddhism or read something about it?
    I see you mentioned the Vedanta, the Vedanta is an "legitimate/correct" but maybe inferior
    explanation to "what is" compared to buddhism in my opinion.
    Almost every monotheistic religion claims the same in some way - three parts of nature marking the "existing consciousness moment"
    we "are".( christianity = trinity, hindu = field,knower of field, fieldmaster, buddhism = 3 Kayas and so on...)
    Buddhism is an practice & experience religion, not a belief & trust other religion, which is a difference
    because almost all other religions are not generally "wrong" in thier message, but maybe rather "inaccurate" due to practically no direct experiencing & practicing in
    this religions.
    You asked the question if self-consciousness could function as the self-grounding ground of existence as such?
    I like to answer your question with a "state" which can be acutally direct experienced by practicing buddhist teachings
    and/or meditation(there are more other ways of this "direct experience" of course):

    "The foremost samaya is when you compose yourself in a state in which you in actuality experience the fact that all sights,
    sound and awareness are visible emptiness, audible emptiness and aware emptiness. To have that certainty
    is called keeping all the hundreds of thousands of samayas."

    This empty-state is futher described as:


    "the dharmadhatu is like the body or realm of empty space where different things, like clouds, birds, and airplanes can fly around without
    obstruction. This is because the nature of space is empty and nonexistent. Due to this quality of openness, things can occur. Likewise, dharmadhatu is the essence of things—empty
    and inconcrete—where all phenomena such as trees, houses, mountains, oneself, other beings, emotions, wisdom, and all experiences can occur openly"

    &


    "In essence, the absolute is the basic space of phenomena (dharmadhatu), devoid of all conceptual elaboration. In its essence, it is without any divisions,
    but still it is possible to speak of ‘divisions’ according to whether or not this reality has been realized. Thus, there are divisions into the
    absolute which is the basic nature itself and the absolute which is the realization (or ‘making evident’) of this basic nature."


    This "absolute nature" is the "nothing" you are talking about.
    The answer is yes, you can direct experience your-self-consciousness as the self-grounding ground of existence as such.
    You "experience" the undoubtable fact that you are the only existing thing in the void/nothing/emptiness - there is total emptiness, only
    a "you-whatever-point/thing" is there recognizing this - no else ...
    This "direct experience" was witnessed by seemingly many people on this planet if you look for this phenomenon on the internet.(meditation, drugs, accidents, etc.)
    The fact that this experience is reconstruced by many "others" is an intresting thing in itself but thats another paper ...

    The buddhists say:

    "everything has an absolute aspect, or absolute truth, and a relative aspect, or relative truth. The absolute or ultimate is the inherent nature of everything,
    how things really are. The conventional or relative is how things appear. In the teachings, these are known as ‘the two truths’, but they are not to be understood
    as two separate dimensions, rather as two aspects of a single reality."

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    1. Hello,

      Thanks for your interesting comment. I know a little about Buddhism, I am certainly no expert on it. I think my previous post on dialectical nihilism is closer to Buddhism than this text.

      I guess the basic conflict between Buddhism and Vedanta concerns the status of the self: whereas Vedanta sees the Self as the absolute, Buddhism proclaims the doctrine of non-self and sees any kind of basic self as an illusion, since in truth there is only emptiness.

      In my view, the Vedantic view is closer to the truth, because self-consciousness obviously involves a self and it is only with self-consciousness (or so I think) that we can make sense of ontological self-grounding, which is needed to answer Leibniz's question "Why is there something rather than nothing?".

      In Buddhism existence remainss ungrounded, problematic, hence the idea of emptiness. In the Vedanta existence is understood as grounded on Brahman as Atman (absolute self-consciousness). I would say that in Buddhism self-consciousness is ultimately an illusion, an instance of maya. Here I think we should invoke -- contra Buddhism -- with Descartes and Shankara (and Augustinus) the self-certainty of self-consciousness, which is immediately and indubitably aware of itself. Cogito ergo sum!

      I must stress that my main references are in Western philosophy: Plotinus, Fichte, Schelling, Hegel, Royce, contemporary philosophy of mind (the hard probem of consciousness, Russellian monism), and contemporary physics (the anthropic principle) -- all these sources motivate me to see self-consciousness as the "self-grounding ground of reality" as I like to put it. Vedanta is for me just another tradition which confirms this view. One could say that Vedanta gives a more mystical expression of an idea that (according to me) Western philosophy and science articules in a more rational way. Not that the one is better than the other. I see them as complementary.

      Greetings,
      Peter

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  4. Hi Peter,

    you are right, there is no one "better" of course...it was just a personal preference i got over time.
    Have you thought about why the Vedanta has two words, brahman and atman for the same
    thing?
    Its pretty crazy to have two names for the same thing i think :D
    And this "two names one thing - thing" is not very accurate described in my opinion (nervertheless the vedanta is top stuff)

    You said:
    "In Buddhism existence remainss ungrounded, problematic, hence the idea of emptiness."

    The point is this ...we are not talking about "ideas" in buddhism, we talk about experience - it is very grounded and tells about a kind of "structure" of this obviously "not-nothing".
    The goal in this religion is the direct realisation or direct experiencing of "nothing" and the comprehension of it.

    You said:
    "In the Vedanta existence is understood as grounded on Brahman as Atman (absolute self-consciousness)."

    Well the buddhist understand the existence grounded on the "emptiness/nothing"

    Sogyal Rinpoche says:

    "Unfortunately, the word ‘emptiness’, which is used to translate the Sanskrit term shunyata, carries a connotation of a nothing-ness, or a void. Happily, there is a wonderful definition in Tibetan that captures its true meaning: Tib. རྟག་ཆད་དང་བྲལ་བ་, tak ché dang dralwa, which translates as: ‘free from permanence and non-existence'.

    Generally, all philosophies tend to fall into one of two extremes: ‘eternalism‘: believing in the existence or permanence of something, or ‘nihilism‘: believing in non-existence. Shunyata goes beyond both of these extremes, because it is neither permanent nor non-existing, and that is, ultimately, how things are."

    I think the Vedanta is very good but buddhism seems to go beyond it.
    The buddhists seems to speak a more "clear" language, based on direct, reproductional experience which is why i got this preference over the vedanta.(Buddhism actually call the "emptiness/nothing" by its name and try to teach about a kind of "nature/structure" of it)

    Greetings

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    1. Whether Vedanta or Buddhism proclaims the ultimate truth cannot be decided in this way. Here science is the arbiter of truth. If science shows that every aspect of this phenomenal world can be explained without any need of any kind of god, then that will definitely go against Vedanta, and be decisive for Buddhism. However I have very much doubt about it, because there is the phenomenon of light.

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