Foundationalism and Consciousness

In the 1790’s in deep Saxony, philosophers were discussing the question of first principles, of foundations of knowledge, to answer the question of what is the truth that makes human reasoning possible. Today, we will certainly ask ourselves why intelligent men spent all that time in seemingly futile pursuits. What did it all matter?

It was the time of the French Revolution and tumultuous changes in the whole of Europe, as volatile as the middle-east today between ideologies based on the three monotheisms. It marked the end of the Renaissance and the arrogant materialism of the Enlightenment, which would attempt a return a hundred years later. The myth of progress died in the trenches of Ypres and the Somme. It keeps coming back, and is still the backbone of the scientific establishment.

This morning, I was curious about the symptoms of psychosis characterising several mental conditions described by modern psychiatry. One sentence struck me, saying that persons afflicted with these mental conditions experience auditory and visual hallucinations that were not real. I imagine this thesis is based on three persons in one room, and one person has a sensory experience (a sound or a voice) that is not perceptible to the other two. These two are presumed to be “normal” and the third “abnormal”. What is reality? Empirical science doesn’t have an answer. That is the preserve of philosophy.

What I have been learning about foundationalism, and I have a long way still to go, is that our notion of truth is generally founded on a fixed divine revelation or sensory experience from which we make abstractions and universal ideas. The Romantics introduced a notion according to which the Absolute or founding truth is beyond our reasoning powers and that we can only search and yearn (Sehnsucht) for it via the imagination and the emotions as extensions of our rational faculties. This was an incredible challenge against Enlightenment epistemology and the foundation of Newtonian physics and empiricism in science.

More recently, another intuition began to challenge the materialist monolith which has no place for scepticism or illusions. That is quantum theory, looking at probabilities and the discrete notion of time and space, concerning a notion of consciousness that breaks all the rules we have been taught. If consciousness precedes matter and even energy, truth comes to life from imagination, thought and theory. Another baffling notion is one of parallel universes. We seem now to have a theory expressed in modern scientific terms of what the Romantic Idealists of Jena were on about, and what we will find in traditions like Hinduism and the hierarchy of higher worlds beyond this one. Dante described different levels of the Inferno, and even classical Catholic theology conceived of different levels of beatitude in heaven. Something is converging.

A lot of modern technology depends on quantum theory and the boffins are working on quantum computers. Experiments have shown microscopic objects existing in the same place and time, yet not being the same object. There are many internet articles and books proposing a basic introduction to quantum theory for dummies like myself. I am not a scientist, but a philosopher and theologian (at my own level). I am struggling to come to terms with Dr Robert Lanza’s Biocentrism, which calls on a mind capable of some scientific way of reasoning. It all sounds crazy, but it is more reasonable than claiming that the one universe is autonomous of all consciousness or life, and randomly evolved into life and consciousness over billions of years (years being single revolutions of the earth round the sun). Outside the earth, what measures time? If you are not conscious, what can experience time? A bit of rock?

One consequence of coming to accept the notion of a series (an infinite discrete number) of parallel universes, all with their own probabilities and successive events in their own timescales, is that we are not at the centre of everything. Reality is beyond us, and we can only aspire to know it via a veil of uncertainty.

I attended an open day at the autism centre in Rouen a couple of weeks ago, and consulted its media centre (modern name for library containing books, periodicals and DVD’s). I wondered if there was any kind of “interface” between their priority on empirical science and philosophy. There was none as far as I could see. It seems to be a discipline yet to be developed by those with both scientific and philosophical knowledge, or by a dialogue of scientists and philosophers. This must also be true in all branches of psychiatry, medicine, biology and science in general. I see the gap. They don’t see it, or don’t yet.

If these dimensions exist, could they be something that can be picked up by certain human beings who “hear voices”. The experience of these schizophrenic people is often very negative, suggestive of diabolical possession in certain cases. Who decides where the borderline is? Perhaps some people experiencing hallucinations have beautiful and positive experiences. I have often thought I would love to take a dose of LSD in a legally approved and medically supervised environment – so that I don’t jump out of the window if I think I can fly! Perhaps there are drugs that are less harmful for the brain, but I would never take anything like that without medical supervision. The nearest I have come was being made unconsciousness by a general anaesthetic for surgery. That is not much fun!Shamans in some cultures are men with extraordinary prophetic gifts, some enhanced by mind-altering substances, magic mushrooms, etc. There is even a drug that gives something like a near-death experience. It is called DMT. It is produced in minute qualities in our own brains, but is processed from certain plants in South America. It is said to be as life-changing as a near-death experience. It is a rigorously controlled drug and I’m not even sure if it has a medical use. It was first synthesised in 1931. I doubt that I will ever have the possibility…

Empiricist scientists try to attribute all unusual extra-sensory experiences to abnormalities of the brain, as if consciousness originated in the brain. It is rather the other way round, though brain abnormalities affect and bend consciousness. Consciousness is not subject to the limitations of our incarnate body and brain. It imagines, dreams, and ultimately experiences separation from the body at the moment of death. Science is very limited in this field, and this is where philosophy takes over, whether through its classical and academic terms or considerations like the “astral” body. How far can Christians (as I am committed as a priest in a Church) go into esoteric teaching? We do have to be extremely careful, because there is a lot of money-grabbing nonsense around masquerading as philosophy and science.

If we have the openness of mind to explore that world, we will find many mind-blowing notions like humans having several parallel bodies in separate universes. According to this theory, it would be possible to penetrate these veils only by means of an altered state of consciousness – through the use of drugs, meditation, hypnosis and extreme asceticism.

The imagination is something extraordinary, and a part of us that is often denigrated for its ability to take leave of “reality”. The imagination is everything for anyone who wants to go beyond the brute materialist world and its evil. It is expressed by art, music and poetry beyond the limits of sensory-based reasoning. That is Romanticism!

Already in this reflection, I emphasise the need for psychiatry to adopt a multi-disciplinary approach in its study of persons whose experience is extra-sensory, and often negative for that person’s well-being. I observed this complete absence of philosophy from the autism centre’s media library. It will probably have to be something I will have to do myself with the help of someone who can give scientific advice. I also have my books! Most of the scientific articles I have looked at are concerned with neurology and bio-chemistry. It just isn’t all we are, though we don’t expect to find recipes for delicious meals in a mechanic’s car engine repair manual! We are also spirits and souls, sometimes with ways of interfacing with realities far beyond our wildest imagination.

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2 Responses to Foundationalism and Consciousness

  1. Linus says:

    Forgive me this series of vaguely conjoined thoughts:

    Those are very interesting questions. To my mind, history is inevitably a mixture of causes, sub-causes, effects, linearity, randomness, order and chaos,and that the human quest for order comes from the innate rationality that is at the heart of humanity, together with something that I would not call irrationality, but that certainly would not approach thing in a discursive and apodictic manner.

    Now, we are not mere observers of nature and of the world. There, we find nature and chaos both within and without us shows that we are part of the world, but not an unthinking part, and that our capacity as a species both for organisation and destruction is itself part of nature’s and the world’s capacity and actual tendency towards both, -hence, the images of our relationship to the world as that of microcosm and macrocosm. But, here, the notion of cosmos is essential. I like to see it as the ornamental arrangement of primaeval Chaos performed by the creative activity of the Logos. I wonder whether the sanskrit mandanam and the Latin mundus are not related.

    I must admit to find elements of the ancient Indo-European understanding of order quite compelling – perhaps it is something congenital to Europeans, Eurasians, Caucasians, Iranians and Indians. This tradition is itself enriched and internally challenged by the infusion of Semitic elements. As such, I would contend that our natural religion, our natural “sacred” comes from the Indo-Europeans while our revealed and supernatural religion comes from the Semites.

    Perhaps, that is the origin of the contest between ideologies of permanence and change, social determinism and divine contingency, potentia ordinata versus potentia absoluta, ultimately spilling onto the conflict between metaphysical realism and nominalism in scholastic philosophy. Perhaps, we could try to understand Romanticism and Rationalism from that perspective?

    (I remember reading somewhere that the divisions of “cogitatione, locutione et opere” is something that could be traced to the Indo-European tripartition a la Dumezil). I have also increasingly been drawn to the exploration of Zoroastrianism – I feel we do not know it well enough, especially in terms of the mutual influences upon Judaism.

  2. You might be interested in this.

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