Dear Historical Forms of Consciousness,
I first want to thank you all for your time and attention, and repeat how grateful and humble I am that I had a chance to spend the day, discussing with you some of the ways of thinking that have helped me make sense of my self, and the world.
I hope that in this day I was able to communicate the ancient and simple value of dialectical thinking, as it applies to fundamental theory, but also, and more importantly, as it can help us approach the personal dimension of our lives.
For me it is becoming increasingly important to recognize intellectually that we are first and foremost human beings with personal and intimate lives. The things we do when we are “alone with the alone”, the capacity to consciously reflect on our own obsessions or attachments, and the way we handle our most basic social tensions, can be the difference between cultivating a sense of daily joy, and experiencing life as a tragic suffering.
Towards this end the first knowledge structure that I wanted to communicate to you occupies the simple distinction between “One” (Self) and “Other” (Opposite). There are of course many different variations of this most basic distinction: I and non-I; me and you; subject and object; consciousness and nature.
All of these distinctions communicate the same basic division or separation that allows for the feeling of a sense of One-Self, or “me” as an “individual” entity in the world. What seems to me to be the nature of this “One” is that it spontaneously and unconsciously attempts to integrate (sublate) or idealise.
What is being spontaneously and unconsciously integrated is something very intimate and precious for the One because it reflects the first impressions and attachments that formed in the origin of its emergence (its division/separation).
For all Ones the first impressions and attachments are related to the family (the Mother, the Father, or other parental figures, and other siblings). These experiences form the ground for what are later sublimated into different domains or fields like work, politics, economy, nation, science, religion, and a whole range of other categories.
The basic mechanisms at work through this process is that what resists integration into the One is seen as the Other, and the main question at work in the One’s notion of the Other is whether or not the Other can continue to exist without the one: the fear of the Other independent of the One.
In reaction to this fear, the One tries to change the Other or its “Opposite”, to make it all One. Of course, after many spontaneous and unconscious attempts, the One slowly (and painfully) recognizes in conscious awareness that this is not a possible function in an absolute sense.
The only way to deal with the Otherness is to consciously reconcile with it. The reconciliation with Otherness is a perspectival shift that sees it as a positive instead of as a negative. In other words, reconciliation sees Otherness as a necessary condition for growth, instead of a barrier to inner completion.
In the process of this reconciliation the obstacles, problems, tensions, and antagonisms that structures the One’s relation to the Other do not disappear, but rather radically change in the way the One relates to the Other. In short, these dimensions become a source of true transformation.
Once this has been accepted by the One, there is a recognition that the original desire for the One minus the Other is a fantasy of desire that has no real (i.e. if the One eradicated or controlled its Other it would still not solve the problem of its existence).
Thus, to summarise:
* There is a primordial distinction between One and the Other
* This primary distinction represents the origin of the Self (separated)
* The One attempts to change the Other in order to reduce it back to One
* This reduction is eventually consciously perceived as impossible
* The One then focuses on changing One-Self, which is possible
* This Self transformation leads to a perspectival shift on the Other
* The Other is accepted as a positive condition for Growth/Transformation
This basic logic is personal, and can be applied to all of the complex individual obsessions and social tensions that characterise our becoming in the world.
However, I also wanted to communicate to you that the ancient origin of dialectical thinking has a relevance for contemporary fundamental theory.
To summarise, dialectical thinking was introduced to combat the problem of absolutist thinking, i.e. when one historical subject claimed to have a complete and coherent view of the truth free of contradiction, incoherence and opposition.
Through the exercise of dialectical thinking, which focuses on identifying with logical contradictions, incoherence or inconsistency, as well as opposition as a positive feature, one can overcome the struggle with ideological identifications and discourses.
Far from being a remote abstract problem, the tendency for the human mind to become an “Absolute One” is a disturbingly common phenomenon that has consciously structured most of human history (and probably still does on an unconscious level).
The true breakthrough in the philosophy of dialectics occurs between the emergence of Kantian philosophy and its eventual maturation in Hegelian philosophy (through a complex detour with Fichte’s politics of freedom and Schelling’s emphasis on artistic representation).
Kant sets up the basic distinction that we human beings have no access to the Absolute reality (or the things-in-themselves), and instead claims that we only have access to phenomena (our perceptions, abstractions).
For Kant, the difference between the phenomena and noumena can explain why we find ourself trapped in rational antinomies (contradiction, incoherence and opposition). Thus, in Kantian philosophy our ultimate horizon is marked by a permanent distance or separation from “The Thing”.
In contrast, for Hegel, there is the introduction, not of a new positive feature to the Kantian distinction between phenomena and noumena, but rather a perspectival shift on this same difference. For Hegel, it is simpler to assume that noumena is a projection of phenomena, and thus the things-in-themselves are something that is being mediated by the phenomena for-us.
The simplest way to think about this perspectival shift is that, in Kant, the things-in-themselves are purely “in-themselves” independent of for-us; and in Hegel, the things-in-themselves are also “for-us” (subjectively mediated), thus directly connecting us with the in-itself.
What this means is that rational antinomies (contradictions, incoherence and opposition) are no longer a feature of our distance or separation from “The Thing”, but rather signs that we are entangled in a becoming with “The Thing” and that “The Thing” is radically incomplete and unfinished.
In other words, when we actively work with and actively strive to embody contradiction, incoherence and opposition as a positive feature (as the first Platonic dialogues attempt to do), we are mediating the very becoming of the things-in-themselves.
This is relevant to fundamental theory because in many fundamental theories there is a type of unconscious presupposition that we are interacting with pre-Kantian noumenal things-in-themselves, instead of abstract rational antinomies.
Consequently, if fundamental theorists started to identify with abstract rational antinomies in-themselves over the illusion of noumenal substance independent of human beings, then it is possible that we could totally transform the field that structures divisions between sciences and the humanities; the tension between classical and quantum physics; as well as the application of evolutionary theory to human beings.
What would emerge from this process is radically unknown, but would possibly give us a deeper sense of our subjective relation to the things-in-themselves.
In the final activity, Spirit is a Bone, I tried to set up an activity where this could be brought to consciousness. The aim was to play with opposites as a positive feature searching for a transformation on the original opposition. In our separation into groups we discussed the opposition between evolution and God; individuation and collectivisation; masculinity and femininity; as well as life and death.
All of these oppositions structure our existence, but it is up to us as subjects in a conscious becoming to get to the core of these differences and uncover how we can better understand why the opposition emerged in the first place. In understanding the deeper why behind the emergence of these oppositions we may be able to transform the entire way in which we think these fields.
Finally, I should add that it is all best to keep in mind that what I attempted to teach in this dialectical thinking course is more about cultivating a sense of an existential attitude. Our existential attitudes are often invisible and underlying our more conscious and explicit abstract knowledge. In other words, “the way we are as beings” is often unconscious, and “what we think we know” is too strongly identified by consciousness.
It could be that if our education focused more on cultivating “the way we are as beings” over and above “what we think we know”, there could be a lot of positive transformation of the abstract becoming of the things-in-themselves.
In order to make this difference more conscious and explicit, I attempted to discuss with you all basic formulas of existential attitudes revealed in the dialectics of Plato’s Parmenides. These existential attitudes include:
* Mysticism (the ecstatic One beyond conscious reason)
* Naturalism (the One of natural symmetry/symbiosis)
* Idealism (the One in wholistic transhistorical structure)
* Absurdism (the One permanently and eternally separate)
* Stoicism (the not-One that functions as an effective illusion)
* Sophism (the not-One that appears as a multiplicity of opinions)
* Buddhism (the not-One of false illusions and liberating void)
* Solipsism (the not-One of nothing at all)
From our historical vantage point the meaning of this matrix is not to strongly identify with one of these forms of appearing of the Idea, but rather to see the way in which each of them has an existential logic. All of these Ideas are a logical appearing of the Idea to itself as history even if they can generate conflicts and oppositions between each other (i.e. the naturalist versus the mystic; the idealist versus the solipsist; the buddhist versus the stoic; the sophist versus the absurdist).
Is there a possibility of developing a meta-interpretation of the matrix as such? I will leave that as a question for you to contemplate on your own time.
I hope that this day was a useful way for you to consider dialectical thinking as an approach to your own life journey, and feel free to reach out to me if you have any deeper questions or concerns that emerged from this day.
Thanks again for your time and attention,