Clever Beasts, Part II

Clever Beasts, Part II


My previous article discussed the initial paragraphs of Nietzsche’s essay, On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense. I left off with his conclusion that man is “deeply immersed in illusions and in dream images…” The manner in which the intellect operates is characterized by deception, both of others and of ourselves. We perceive things and think we are seeing them as they are in themselves, but this is a lie fashioned by our minds. It is a mechanism of self-preservation, according to Nietzsche. Since nature has chosen to fashion mankind such that we do not wage the battle for existence with horns or with the sharp teeth of beasts of prey,” dissimulation, as an art, has become highly acute in us. With this in mind, Nietzsche concludes that “there is almost nothing which is less comprehensible than how an honest and pure drive for truth could have arisen among” us. But it did somehow arise, for there are those among us who possess this drive, or else I would not be penning this short article. Therefore,

What does man actually know about himself? Is he, indeed, ever able to perceive himself completely, as if laid out in a lighted display case? Does nature not conceal most things from him-even concerning his own body-in order to confine and lock him within a proud, deceptive consciousness, aloof from the coils of the bowels, the rapid flow of the blood stream, and the intricate quivering of the fibers! She threw away the key. And woe to that fatal curiosity which might one day have the power to peer out and down through a crack in the chamber of consciousness and then suspect that man is sustained in the indifference of his ignorance by that which is pitiless, greedy, insatiable, and murderous-as if hanging in dreams on the back of a tiger. Given this situation, where in the world could the drive for truth have come from?

So, what do we really know about ourselves? Can we know ourselves completely? It was Heraclitus who first said, Nature loves to hide (Fragment 10, trans, by G.W.T. Patrick). Nature does, indeed, conceal most things from us, but not all things. Even though it seems nature confines us “within a proud, deceptive consciousness,” this does not mean we must remain in this state. Remember what Heraclitus said, “Into the same river you could not step twice” (ibid.). Yes, nature does conceal itself, but it also changes constantly. This infers we are not locked within a deceptive consciousness. In the end, it may mean we cannot completely know ourselves, but we might be able “to peer out and down through a crack in the chamber of consciousness.” There is a drive for truth. We know this beyond all doubt. This is not one of our self-deceptions.

There is an initial step toward the “truth drive” we must understand. Since we cannot know truth in and of itself, something must be invented that represents truth: “That is to say, a uniformly valid and binding designation is invented for things, and this legislation of language likewise establishes the first laws of truth.” In other words, truth can be conveyed, albeit in a limited fashion, through language. The thing-in-itself, which Nietzsche calls “pure truth,” is incomprehensible, and “not in the least worth striving for” (Nietzsche, at this point in his career, was still adhering to the Kantian distinction of phenomenon and noumenon; he later rejected it and overcame metaphysical dualism). The creator of languages only desires to demonstrate “the relations of things to men, and for expressing these relations he lays hold of the boldest metaphors.” And now we come to a fascinating passage:

…we believe that we know something about the things themselves when we speak of trees, colors, snow, and flowers; and yet we possess nothing but metaphors for things–metaphors which correspond in no way to the original entities. In the same way that the sound appears as a sand figure, so the mysterious X of the thing in itself first appears as a nerve stimulus, then as an image, and finally as a sound. Thus the genesis of language does not proceed logically in any case, and all the material within and with which the man of truth, the scientist, and the philosopher later work and build, if not derived from never-never land, is a least not derived from the essence of things.

If you think about this, Nietzsche is exactly correct. The initial entity we deal with in our process of knowing is the image. Jung also believed this, as did James Hillman:

In the beginning is the image; first imagination then perception; first fantasy then reality…Man is primarily an image-maker and our psychic substance consists of images; our being is imaginal being, an existence in imagination. We are indeed such stuff as dreams are made on (James Hillman, Re-Visioning Psychology, p. 23).

Prior to our perceiving anything in this world, there are images that create our reality. Jung said, “The psyche creates reality every day.” Our consciousness is totally dependent upon this vast storehouse of images we call soul. Soul is image and image is soul. The only way we experience anything in this world is because of our ability to imagine. We imagine and create constantly. Our consciousness would not exist without images. Images are the irreducible elements inherent in all things.

Nietzsche is referring to the metaphors of language, i.e. words. A metaphor begins, perhaps, as a nerve stimulus, then as a picture in the mind, then as a sound. These sounds become words in many different forms, according to one’s language and culture. I find it interesting that Carl Jung likened the archetypes to instincts. Images originate in the body, in human Being (in the Heideggerian sense). They come from the instincts/archetypes. These are the sources of all knowledge, in my opinion.

I will continue with this line of inquiry in my next article.

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