Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Mind and God as Philosophically Known - Interlude

It was from Soren Kierkegaard that I first learned what it means to truly think; to think as what I am, a man in existence in a certain time and place; and that knowing the truth means primarily understanding myself in existence, and only secondarily means amassing a store of objective knowledge that is worthless without a self-understanding to ground its meaning. He taught me that purely objective science is a myth, for there is no such thing as thought without a thinker, and science is only knowledge insofar as it is thought by someone; and it is only my knowledge if it is thought by me. I must first understand my "private book", and only then may I consult the "public book" with profit.

Kierkegaard was not an enemy of empirical science, but only an enemy of the common, unspoken but truly bizarre modern prejudice that the adoption of certain methods of thought or investigation allows one to escape the human condition; the prejudice that allows one to say "the mind is essentially a model-maker" but never doubt that the statement applies to the mind as it really is; or that believes that writing from the imagined viewpoint of a Martian rather than your own viewpoint somehow makes one's thought more objective. 

The fantastic flight into the objective, now perceived as essential to science, is actually a mortal threat to it. For as scientists lose self-understanding, they lose the ability to distinguish true from false science, and begin to pass off pseudoscience as science, as in the warmed over Kantian philosophy that is the inevitable conclusion of contemporary books on the "science of the mind." There is a real empirical science of the mind, and it is being conducted today with genuine results, but like the craftsmen Socrates interrogated in ancient Athens, the modern scientist often cannot distinguish his scientific knowledge from his philosophical opinions, and dumps an undistinguished mass of the two on his reader. It is up to the reader to sift the wheat from the chaff if he can.

Our culture does not suffer from a shortage of technical knowledge, but from a shortage of self-understanding that might have some inkling of the simple art of living as a man, something the "simple wise man" of Athens might still teach us if we would only listen. But then how can Socrates have anything to teach us, when our science has long since surpassed him?

"If an existing individual were really able to transcend himself, the truth would be for him something final and complete; but where is the point at which he is outside himself? The I-am-I is a mathematical point which does not exist, and in so far there is nothing to prevent everyone from occupying the standpoint; the one will not be in the way of the other. It is only momentarily that the particular individual is able to realize existentially a unity of the infinite and the finite which transcends existence. This unity is realized in the moment of passion. Modern philosophy has tried anything and everything in the effort to help the individual to transcend himself objectively, which is a wholly impossible feat; existence exercises its restraining influence, and if philosophers nowadays had not become mere scribblers in the service of a fantastic thinking and its preoccupation, they would long ago have perceived that suicide was the only tolerable practical interpretation of its striving."
Kierkegaard, Concluding Unscientific Postscript, Part II, Book II, Ch. 2

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