Clever Beasts, Part I

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Once upon a time, in some out of the way corner of that universe which is dispersed into numberless twinkling solar systems, there was a star upon which clever beasts invented knowing. That was the most arrogant and mendacious minute of “world history,” but nevertheless, it was only a minute. After nature had drawn a few breaths, the star cooled and congealed, and the clever beasts had to die. One might invent such a fable, and yet he still would not have adequately illustrated how miserable, how shadowy and transient, how aimless and arbitrary the human intellect looks within nature. There were eternities during which it did not exist. And when it is all over with the human intellect, nothing will have happened. For this intellect has no additional mission which would lead it beyond human life. Rather, it is human, and only its possessor and begetter takes it so solemnly-as though the world’s axis turned within it. But if we could communicate with the gnat, we would learn that he likewise flies through the air with the same solemnity, that he feels the flying center of the universe within himself. There is nothing so reprehensible and unimportant in nature that it would not immediately swell up like a balloon at the slightest puff of this power of knowing. And just as every porter wants to have an admirer, so even the proudest of men, the philosopher, supposes that he sees on all sides the eyes of the universe telescopically focused upon his action and thought (F. Nietzsche, On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense, 1873).

This is quite an humbling statement from our friend, Nietzsche; it sets the seemingly all-knowing scientist and philosopher in his or her proper place. That “mendacious minute of world history,” in which the clever beast invents the art of knowing, may be temporal, even though we pompously view it as the beginning of something unending. The believer in Platonic Idealism will violently rail against these statements, for this violates every precept of that doctrine. Likewise, Christians will hurl accusations of heresy at the mere mention that the art of knowing will dissipate with the death of that great star. Since it created the gathering of knowledge, humanity believes itself to be the center and master of the universe. This is, of course, the rankest form of hubris.

If you read on in the essay, Nietzsche goes on to tell us, “The pride connected with knowing and sensing lies like a blinding fog over the eyes and senses of men, thus deceiving them concerning the value of existence” (ibid.). An extreme pretentiousness has begotten a form of deception that blinds us entirely to the nature of existence and truth. “As a means for the preserving of the individual, the intellect unfolds its principle powers in dissimulation” (ibid.). Man is the master of dissimulation. This is without a doubt, symptomatic of the deficient form of the mental-rational mode of consciousness, spoken of by Jean Gebser.

Deception, flattering, lying, deluding, talking behind the back, putting up a false front, living in borrowed splendor, wearing a mask, hiding behind convention, playing a role for others and for oneself-in short, a continuous fluttering around the solitary flame of vanity-is so much the rule and the law among men that there is almost nothing which is less comprehensible than how an honest and pure drive for truth could have arisen among them (ibid.). 

This is our culture in a nutshell. These are the impediments that prevent any form of individuation, any form of deepening consciousness. We will not profit by a return to a purer, more enlightened era; mankind has been like this since the birth of the intellect. Some future Utopia will not solve our problems either.

They are deeply immersed in illusions and in dream images; their eyes merely glide over the surface of things and see “forms.” Their senses nowhere lead to truth; on the contrary, they are content to receive stimuli and, as it were, to engage in a groping game on the backs of things (ibid).

Empirical data and the quantifiable will not be our saviors. While beneficial to humanity in some ways, science is still living in that deep, dense fog that causes it to blindly grope in the darkness.

Politicians are the most deceived, and most deceiving, group of all humans. While “normal” people engage daily in dissimulation to a certain extent, according to their natures, politicians are absolute masters of deception, possessing finely honed words of rhetoric designed to cause the bleating sheep who follow them to do their bidding, while they look on approvingly. The most mendacious among them move to the head of the herd. These have the ability to deceive the most sheep into voting for them. One of their primary tactics is demagoguery. By preaching xenophobia and racism, and thereby inflaming the passions of the masses, their agenda is furthered.

But this begs the question, Who, among us, knows? If mankind is blinded by hubris because we possess intellect, of what good is the quest for truth, and where did the desire even originate in the first place?

More to come…

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The Brunian Revolution, Part 4: Epistemology

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Bruno was one who fully utilized the imagination in his work. It took him a mere ten years of traversing the imaginal world to reach a more accurate picture of the universe than Galileo’s, who spent several decades calculating and experimenting. Even after those many years, when Galileo was ready to die, he still believed the Sun to be the center of the universe. Bruno accurately saw the universe to be without a center almost sixty years prior to this. Galileo had much better technology, some he invented himself. Bruno used, primarily, his imagination, along with astute observation, to reach these revolutionary conclusions. This brings to mind Albert Einstein’s success, using his “thought-experiments” to reach equally monumental developments.

Bruno had serious reservations concerning the sole use of mathematics to ascertain the nature of reality. He cites Ptolemy as one example of someone with amazing mathematical skills, who claimed the earth to be the center of the universe. This view was dominant in the West for over fifteen hundred years. Bruno felt that the use of mathematics, to the exclusion of observation, reason, and the imagination, was not a reliable road to knowledge. In this point, Bruno was anti-Pythagorean and anti-Platonic. But this does not mean Bruno totally rejected mathematics. He believed it is was very useful in his work to corroborate “the intuitions about the universe that he believed only philosophy could provide…” (Mendoza 158).

Eventually, Einstein helped to prove that mathematics was indispensable in cosmological theory. He didn’t accomplish this, however, exclusively through mathematics, but by using his amazing imagination to envision the geometric motions of heavenly bodies.

Bruno’s epistemology is firmly grounded in his idea of the Cosmic Mind, which you can read about in my article, here.

Bruno’s conviction that the human mind was ‘the eye of divine intelligence’ may have prompted him to ‘tune in’ with the cosmic mind. Man had first to set his mind free from all the prejudices that held it imprisoned in the dark dungeon of ignorance so as to render it capable of establishing contact with the cosmic mind. He simply had to let the ‘larger mind’ take over (Mendoza 162).

Bruno’s mature epistemology is dialectical, preceding Hegel by a little over two centuries. Borrowing from the coincidentia oppositorum of Nicholas of Cusa, and the dynamic Heraclitean principle of becoming, Bruno forged a theory of knowledge that was truly unique. In de umbris idearum, he writes:

…in order for you to acquire a consummate and absolute art, it behooves you to copulate with the soul of the world, and once you have copulated with it, to act, for it is teeming with rational forms, and it generates a world full of rational forms. And these forms (Plotinus would agree) shape and form in seed everything that exists, like tiny worlds. Hence since the soul is everywhere present, all of it in the whole and in every part of it as well, you may be able to behold, as the condition of matter will allow, in everything, no matter how small or cut off, the world, not to speak of the semblance of the world, so that we may without fear say with Anaxagoras that everything is in everything (qtd. in Mendoza 163).

Bruno is asserting the “tuning in” of the mind with the cosmic mind that involves “copulation” with the soul of the world. Powerful imagery, indeed! The same thought processes, archetypes, imagery of the cosmic mind can be experienced in the human mind. The universe is understandable because the subject and object of knowledge share the same type of configuration; the mind and the cosmic mind have basically the same structure.

So, using his dialectical methodology, Bruno saw mind and matter as complementary, as  interdependent “moments of reality” (Mendoza 164). The macrocosmic mind and the microcosmic mind both share the same divine and infinite Oneness.

Probably the thing that distinguished Bruno’s method most of all was his courage to question the authoritative assertions of the past. Because of his method of free thought and uncompromising intellectual honestly, he influenced all freethinkers after him to not rely on revelation or dogma for their discoveries, but on their own minds and imaginations.

 

Works Cited

Mendoza, Ramon G. The Acentric Labyrinth. Rockport: Element, 1995.

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