This post is a part of the online book Philosophical Counseling with Tolkien.
Ontology is the philosophical study of the nature of being, becoming, existence, or reality, as well as the basic categories of being and their relations. Traditionally listed as a part of the major branch of philosophy known as metaphysics, ontology often deals with questions concerning what entities exist or may be said to exist and how such entities may be grouped, related within a hierarchy, and subdivided according to similarities and differences. An entity is something that exists as itself, as a subject or as an object, actually or potentially, concretely or abstractly, physically or not. It need not be of material existence. In particular, abstractions (for example Platonic ideas), and legal fictions are usually regarded as entities. In general, there is also no presumption that an entity is animate, or present. The word is abstract in intention. It may refer, for example, to Bucephalus, the horse of Alexander; to a stone; to a cardinal number; to a language; or to ghosts or other spirits.
In modern terms, the formal study of reality itself has been reduced to the domain of the physical sciences, while the study of personal and mental "reality" has been reduced to psychology. This has resulted in what I call the heredity and environment ideology. Materialism, for example, doesn´t believe in the existence of the mental reality, and idealism doesn´t believe in the existence of the material reality.
1. The Problem of Mind
Is Man only a product of heredity and environment? Has science really proven this assertion? No, it hasn´t. Firstly science till today has not been able to give any explanation of, that we have a consciousness, that we are conscious about ourselves and are able to reflect and meditate over our own wishes, actions and doings. In natural science all explanations are quantitative; that is to say: they are given within the frames of, what can be measured, scaled and counted. It speaks from an outside-and-in perspective on Man; it speaks about the Outer Side of the world. I have always find it weird that people, like the philosopher Daniel Dennett, can deny the exsistence of consciousness, since it is such an evident daily experience. In his book - with the ambitious title Consciousness Explained – Dennett seeks to explain consciousness, partially through computer analogies, partially through neurology and psychology. So he speaks about consciousness from areas that has nothing whatever to do with our daily experiences.
Dennett´s position might be called scientific materialism/naturalism. Many current and recent philosophers—e.g., Willard Van Orman Quine, Donald Davidson, and Jerry Fodor—operate within a broadly physicalist or materialist framework, producing rival accounts of how best to accommodate mind, including functionalism, anomalous monism, identity theory, and so on. They all sound very clever, and uses a very difficult language, but the points of views, are in my view, forms of explaining away.
Scientific "Materialism" is often synonymous with, and has so far been described, as being a reductive materialism. In recent years, Paul and Patricia Churchland have advocated a radically contrasting position (at least, in regards to certain hypotheses); eliminativist materialism holds that some mental phenomena simply do not exist at all, and that talk of those mental phenomena reflects a totally spurious "folk psychology" and introspection illusion. That is, an eliminative materialist might believe that a concept like "belief" simply has no basis in fact—the way folk science speaks of demon-caused illnesses would be just one obvious example. That´s just a few examples of philosophers decaying to use ridiculing language, when they not are able to think out any rational argument.
Much of Dennett's work since the 1990s has been concerned with fleshing out his previous ideas by addressing the same topics from an evolutionary standpoint, from what distinguishes human minds from animal minds (Kinds of Minds), to how free will is compatible with a naturalist view of the world (Freedom Evolves). Just try to say Consciousness Evolves instead, and you´ll have New Age.
Dennett sees evolution by natural selection as an algorithmic process (though he spells out that algorithms as simple as long division often incorporate a significant degree of randomness). This idea is in conflict with the evolutionary philosophy of paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould, who preferred to stress the "pluralism" of evolution (i.e., its dependence on many crucial factors, of which natural selection is only one).
Dennett's views on evolution are identified as being strongly adaptationist, in line with his theory of the intentional stance, and the evolutionary views of Richard Dawkins.
In his book Darwin's Dangerous Idea, Dennett showed himself even more willing than Dawkins to defend adaptationism in print, devoting an entire chapter to a criticism of the ideas of Gould. This stems from Gould's long-running public debate with E. O. Wilson and other evolutionary biologists over human sociobiology and its descendant evolutionary psychology, which Gould and Richard Lewontin opposed, but which Dennett advocated, together with Dawkins and Steven Pinker.
Strong disagreements have been launched against Dennett from Gould and his supporters, who allege that Dennett overstated his claims and misrepresented Gould's to reinforce what Gould describes as Dennett's "Darwinian fundamentalism".
Dennett´s book Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomena is in the name of science trying to debunk religion and especially the idea of God. But Dennett´s book, like his other books, are unnecessarily lengthy arguments for his relatively simple, and by no means exceptional, ideas of naturalism. Dennett´s belief that science can provide an adequate understanding of religion is obviously not a scientifically proven or even provable claim. It is a dogma, a declaration of faith. No massive accumulation of sarcastic putdowns or intellectual gymnastics can conceal this fact from the critical reader. Furthermore: we already have seen how Mary Midgley has shown how far from Darwin this kind of atheist fundamentalism is.
When we speak about everything, that the word consciousness covers – thoughts, feelings, considerations, pains etc. – then it seems quite clear, that it is not something that is quantitative. When we are using an inside-and-out perspective (speaking from the Inner Side of the world) and describe our states of consciousness and our experiences of, what we think is beautiful, ugly, attractive, repelling etc., - then we use a completely other language than the quantitative language of natural science. So how should one be able to reduce everything to natural science? For some weird (unreasoned) reason this self-evident fact is impossible for certain materialists to understand. They are arrogantly convinced about their scientific truth, but can neither prove it, or argue reasonable for it.
As an example, let us begin, quite literally with the matter with which The Lord of the Rings deals. Regarded from the outside-and-in perspective (the Outer Side of the book) this book is a material body in space. It can also be understood as a vibrating energetic structure. The book´s three-dimensional form, however, conceals a multi-dimensional inner world of meaning (the Inner Side of the book). We cannot enter this world by researching the fabric of space and time, matter and energy. We can only enter it by reading the book! Surprise, surprise, to materialists, who quite possible haven´t read The Lord of the Rings. But they have read other books, and they can´t deny that they needed to read them in order to reach the inner world of meaning (that is: the Inner Side of the books). We can only enter The Lord of the Rings by reading the book – letting our awareness flow into its inner soul-space – a space that derives from the unique soul qualities and constitute the spirit of another being – its author. The world of soul is a world of meaning. The world of spirit, a world of beings.
But to convince the modern materialists of the existence of an invisible world of soul and spirit, however, is like trying to convince someone who doesn´t know what it means to read, that the invisible ink marks on the pages of a book conceal an invisible world of meaning and are the work of an invisible being – one nowhere to be found in the matter or energy of the book.
The interesting is however, that the more science develops, the more you have to give up backgrounds, which once occured evident to everyone. In nuclear physics and the quantum mechanics we have learned, that there exist processes, which is not cause determined, and which do not follow the old rule about, that everything has to be continuous. Brain-functions are in a wide extent quantum mechanical, and since the quantum mechanics breaks with the principle of causation and determinism, then the human brain is not fully a cause determined system. And then you can´t up from the ground explain brain processes from genetical and environmental factors.
The fundamental principles of classical physics, namely the perception of space and time as absolute and the principles of causality, determinism and continuity, must therefore be completely given up with the breakthrough of modern physics at the beginning of this century. The only exception is the principle that energy and matter are constant, which also in modern natural science is considered to be fundamental.
So, quantum mechanics disproves materialism, but it doesn´t prove idealism neither, as idealists seem to think. I have accounted for the abuse of this breakthrough from both postmodern and spiritual sides many places. I will refer to my articles Quantum Mysticism and Its Web of Lies, and Quantum Mechanics and The Philosophy of Niels Bohr.
Because you can´t – as Niels Bohr points out – replace classical physics with quantum mechanics, because the validity of classical physics is a necessary precondition for, that you can describe the quantum mechanical phenomena and make account for the macroscopic (”classical”) experimental arrangement. Bohr is writing in a famous discussion contribution against Einstein, who didn't want to accept, that the causality principle has no validity in nuclear physics:
”…the account for all experiences – regardless how far the phenomena are lying outside the reach of classical physics – must be expressed in classical concepts. The reason is simply, that we by the word ”experiment” refer to a situation, where we can tell others what we have done and what we have learned, and that the experimental device and measuring results therefore must be described in the usual language with appropriate use of the terminology of classical physics.” (Niels Bohr: ”Atomfysik og menneskelig erkendelse”, Schultz´ Forlag, København 1957, s. 53.)
Note, that Bohr here speaks about the usual language (everyday language) supplemented with the terms of classical physics. This is due to, that he regards the concepts of classical physics as a more explicit formulation of everyday language. In that sense everyday language is a necessary precondition for all natural scientific realization, and nor can everyday language be replaced by an unambiguous and formalised, logical scientific language.
Surpringly, Tolkien shares this idea. Remember: The two magics have a number of things in common or (when misused) evil. Technology becomes evil when it is turned from a means to an end (when it is turned into ideology). Fantasy becomes evil when it is turned into a create-your-own-reality philosophy (New Age especially, but on the whole the so-called self-production thesis). The ability to distinguish between reality and fantasy, between objective and subjective reality, is the first mark of sanity, and the confusion of the two is the first and most basic mark of insanity. Neither materialism nor idealism have the ability to distinguish. In order to establish unambiguous description (and thinking) one must be able to discriminate between subject and object, dream and reality, etc. Middle-earth is a fantasy, but paradoxiacally enough it is a cosmos that is more real because it is more awake. Enchantment would not be possible if you couldn´t discriminate between dream and reality. Enchantment is precisely enchanting because of the sense of something real; that is: something you haven´t produced yourself.
My professor in philosophy, the late David Favrholdt, has developed this important theme in Bohr´s epistemology further in his own philosophy. He works with, what he calls The Core in everyday language. I will return to this topic in the chapter on Epistemology, but just shortly say that The Core involves, not an ontological dualism like Descartes´, but an epistemological, a so-called gnoseological dualism. Unambiguous description has the distinction between subject and object as a necessary precondition. And the fact itself, that we have to discriminate between subject and object in order to communicate unambiguous, actually indicates logically, that both materialism (the scientific bias) and idealism (the New Age bias) are mistaken point of views.
And finally to the concept of consciousness itself. We have seen that Hara is the center of awareness. The Heart is the centre of consciousness. Both Hara and Heart have to do with space, or spaciousness, love, as we will see later.
In science it is inexplicable what an ”I” or a ”Self” is. I wake up in the morning, and I know, that I am the same as yesterday or ten years ago, in spite of the fact that my body since then has changed look and that the content of my thoughts in many ways has become something else. What is this ”Me”?
It is not my body, because then I should each morning go out in the bathroom and look in the mirror, in order to find out who I am. Nor is it the content of my consciousness, my thoughts and my memories, because then I first had to evoke a line of memories each morning, before I knew who I am. The whole of the total science has no explanation of, what a ”Self” is, or what personal identity is.
In this there also lies another factor, namely the question about the free will, the possibility of Man consciously to decide on his own present condition and within some limits to make a free choice.
Meanwhile I mean, that the concept of free will and free choice is unfortunate concepts. In my understanding the will is the will to power, and belongs to the Ego, which makes it´s choices on background of the past, and which therefore is determined by both its personal and collective history. Therefore the Ego always strives towards being something else than what it is, it imitates others, are a slave of others ideas and ideals, and its actions are charaterized by irresoluteness and doubt. A more fortunate concept would in my understanding be the freedom that lies in the existential concept of being yourself; that is: where you live in accordance with your own essence and thereby achieve authenticity, autonomy, decisiveness and power of action. I would therefore prefer to use the concepts of freedom of action and freedom of decisiveness (I will return to the concept of freee will in chapter 2, Philosophical Theology, part 2: Divine Providence and Free Will).
The assertion that Man is nothing else than a product of heredity and environment, has become an ideology, a part of the planlessness of our welfare society, where no one is responsible, where no one can help anything, where everything is to blame the genes or the society. However facing this reductionism you can place a more true understanding, which has science on its side: Man is a product of heredity and environment, yes, but also of your own consciousness about yourself.
I am born with some specific genes, which to a high degree put limits for, what I am able to and not able to. In some ways I have had good growing up conditions, in others bad. But I have since my childhood been conscious about myself and my surroundings, and have more or less freely been able to decide on something, rather than something else, within some limits. So therefore I am not only a product of heredity and environment, but also a person, which has become what I am, due to a line of decisions, which I have made through life.
It is a viewpoint between two extremes. On the one hand we have the assertion, that no one can help, that he is as he is. No one is able to change himself. My answer is: yes, you can. You can within some given limits work with yourself, and consciously decide to reflect and meditate over your background, your past, your environment, the whole of your character. You can decide to start a spiritual practice, which you know in longer term will change your outlook and way of being. In a spiritual practice you can change yourself quite considerably.
On the other hand we have Sartre´s assertion about, that a person’s life is determined alone by all the choices, he makes; that is to say: by the evaluations, which the inner thinker makes by saying yes and no, justifying and condemning, accepting and denying. But this is an overstatement, which sounds a bit too much of ”everyone is the architect of his own fortunes”. Moreover, there is the problem with the Ego and its thought distortions.
It is therefore not true, that freedom lies in choosing to become what you want to. You can for example without guilt become beaten down by an assailant, so that you have to spend the rest of your life in a wheelchair. Here it is so so with being the architect of your own fortunes.
Truth lies in the middle of these extremes. Heredity and environment put some limits for, what we can do and not can do. But our self and our consciousness, which scientifically seen can´t be explained alone from heredity and environment, makes us capable runningly to decide on, how we want to react in a lot of the situations, life puts us in. Therefore you can in some situations talk about a personal responsibility.
It is from this mysterious consciousness that all philosophical questions come: Who am I? Where do the thoughts come from? What is consciousness and where does it come from? Is there a meaning of life? How does man preserve peace of mind and balance in all the relationships of life? How do we learn to appreciate the true goods and flout all transient and vain goals? Is the destiny of Man part of a larger plan?
I have suggested, that a human being seems to have two aspects: an energy-aspect and a consciousness-aspect. Seen from the energy-aspect lawfulness rules: your body is subject to the physical laws of nature (both classical laws and quantum laws); your psychic system is subject to the lawfulness of the energy fields and of the energy transformations: compensatory karma. The psychic system is what I refer to when I talk about thoughts and mind.
Seen from the consciousness-aspect, then a human being seems to be akin to the Wholeness, to be transcendent in relation to these lawfulnesses (also the quantum laws). The Wholeness is one and the same as reality. So, in my view, consciousness, Wholeness and reality is one and the same.
Please give this a moment for reflection. Awareness seems to be a quality of the now, and therefore a quality of life itself: nature, Universe. Many ancient Indian scripts say that the Universe is in meditation, or rather: the Universe is one great meditation! When you are in the Now, life, nature and universe expands. Awareness seems to have the qualities of openness and spaciousness. Unawareness closes these qualities. We can all experience this quite easily. Take a walk in the forest. Unawareness, or distractedness (focus on thinking and head), cause that we don´t see the nature we are walking in. Awareness causes that we see it much more clearly. And by practicing meditation (awareness in the now), you begin to connect with this open dimension of your being. In fact, it introduces you to the unlimited spaciousness that Buddhists call Sûnyatâ (see my book Sûnyatâ Sutras). This spaciousness is also the source of love. Spaciousness is simply love. The openness and the spaciousness come from your heart, not your head. It is not neither mental nor material. It is, in fact, consciousness.
In other words: Matter (hereunder the body) and mind (hereunder thoughts, the unconscious, the psyche, subject, the content of consciousness) – are something else than consciousness.
If I should try to characterize this theory in traditional philosophy of mind, it would be a kind of double-aspect theory. The double-aspect theory is a type of mind-body monism. According to double-aspect theory, the mental and the material are different aspects or attributes of a unitary reality, which itself is neither mental nor material. The unitary reality is the form of consciousness, an aspect which is completely neglected in traditional Western philosophy, but very commonly known in Western mysticism and Eastern philosophy (Spinoza and Schopenhauer had a double-aspect theory, but didn´t work with the form of consciousness). In Western philosophy they have only contemplated the content of consciousness, and not the form (though Kant was very close to it with his concept of The Transcendental Apperception, the unity where the self and the world come together). They haven´t looked into the consciousness itself, as you do in meditation, but only followed its direction towards an object; what you call the intentionality of consciousness. In fact, they claim that consciousness always must have intentionality. But this is only what I refer to as the mind. Intentionality is the power of the mind to be about, to represent, or to stand for, things, properties and states of affairs.
Meditation stops the intentionality, and directs the mind into its source, namely consciousness itself, which is one and the same as reality and Wholeness. You could also say that meditation changes the consciousness from being one-directional to being bidirectional. Bidirectional consciousness means that the consciousness both is directed towards its form and its content. It is being open to the form of consciousness, aware of both magnetic poles in the field of subject-object experience. I have also called this the Wholeness of the observer and the observed.
You can actually make a fascinating comparison between Kant and the Tibetan Dzogchen master Longchenpa, because where Kant´s philosophy stops with the transcendental apperception, Longchenpa´s philosophy begins. Where Kant´s philosophy goes in the direction of the content of consciousness, and describes the categories of experience, Longchenpa´s philosophy goes in the direction of the form of consciousness, and describes the categories of enlightenment. Kant doesn´t mention the enlightened state. Longchenpa doesn´t mention the content of consciousness. Tibetan Buddhism in fact has a name for Kant´s transcendental apperception; it is called Rigpa, the knowing of the original wakefulness that is personal experience. So Kant and Longchenpa have the same starting point: the transcendental apperception, but go in two different directions. Together they could form the complete philosophy of the bidirectional consciousness. I have investigated this fascinating perspective in my blog post The Mandala of Kant and Longchenpa.
I see materialism and idealism as complementary to each other, because they mutually exclude each other and at the same time necessarily must supplement each other. It is this which comes to expression in the necessity of an epistemological dualism in order to reach unambiguous thinking and description. But this is not an ontological dualism like Descartes´. The double-aspect theory avoids the mind-body dualism, which claims that the mind and body are completely distinct and separable. The dual-aspect monism has the very specific further feature, namely that different aspects may show a complementarity in a quantum physical sense. This implies that with regard to mental and physical states there may be incompatible descriptions of different parts that emerge from the Wholeness. This stands in close analogy to quantum physics, where complementary properties cannot be determined jointly with accuracy (Again: see my article Quantum Mechanics and the Philosophy of Niels Bohr).
And the form of consciousness, the unitary reality, the Wholeness, is itself neither mental nor material. It is Tao (God), the undescribable. If one should describe it, it could be decribed as divine because the lifefulfilment, which life itself contains, is so absolute, so complete, that there herein is something eternal and endless. If you are present in the Now, actively and involved from the awareness (the Soul), the innermost in yourself, and from the heartfulness - that is to say: totally, with the whole of yourself, and therefore in self-forgetful freedom and world absorption - then you will experience eternity and infinity. You will experience the true essence of nature, which is God.
Furthermore: the consciousness-aspect is also the area of progressive karma (divine providence): the dreaming tracks and songlines in the artwork of the universe and Man. Progressive karma lies in the transcendental apperception, or rigpa: the transcendental unity of all experience. It is also called the great vision, from which the Universe is created.
I see the concept of a transcendental aspect, and the use of words such as God, the Divine, the Otherness, etc., as necessary concepts due to the threat of subjectivism and therefore ego-inflation.
We saw that the Buddhist philosopher Nagarjuna said, that the Now´s lawfulness around the function of a universal negationpower (the negation of the Wholeness), is due to, that energy works as streams and dividings within the superior Wholeness. And because the Wholeness is a reality, each part will always fit into a correspondent part. This means, that each part only can be understood in relation to its negation; that is: what the part not is. Firstly this implies, that each part comes to appear as part of a polarization-pair, or a pair of opposites – like in the teaching of Yin and Yang - or seen as complementary as in quantum mechanics. Secondly it implies, that each part only can be understood in relation to everything else; that is: in relation to the wholeness.
So the more you, through the Ego´s evaluations, isolate these parts from each other, the more the abandoned parts will work stronger and stronger on their polar partners. Therefore these polar partners in their extremes will finally switch over in the opposite extreme. Another aspect of this lawfulness, or another way to describe this lawfulness is: energy returns to its starting point. This is also called compensatory karma, and the lawfulness works as wave movements and pendulum movements.
Herewith we can talk about the laws of the Wholeness. These are known in all wisdom traditions: Tao, Dharma, Destiny, Karma, Hybris-nemesis, Original sin, Logos, the Will of God, and so on. They say as follows: energy returns to it´s starting point. You may therefore say, that energy moves as a wheel. Thus it is these laws, which control all the different life-cycles.
The progressive karma, the dreaming tracks and the songlines, is the map of the Wholeness. It is the map which shows the consciousness it´s direction back to its source, namely the Wholeness. This map can therefore only be experienced in meditation, in neutral observation and bidirectional consciousness. You can´t experience it in a psychedelic trip, since the bidirectional consciousness only can be created through a long and vegetative meditative work. A work that can be compared with the work of changing the light beam of a projector in a movie theatre, and re-directing it into the projector itself. Or like changing the direction of a river. A psychedelic trip will just enforce the one-directional mind. As the psychedelic therapists say: just flow with it. No! I say, don´t just flow with it, work with re-directing a part of it into its own source! First here the glimpses of the Wholeness begins (see a full description of this difficult topic in my booklet The Psychedelic Experience versus the Mystical Experience).
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