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Dialectics Precede ... Part 2

Dialectics Precede ... Part 2 (On the Basic Nature of Reality)

By Dennis Loo (12-18-17)

A friend asked me to expand upon this passage in my last article:

“For something to have meaning (i.e., a purpose beyond itself) then something has to exist OUTSIDE of the universe, but it cannot, and not only by definition, but by the very nature of dialectics and existence itself. That is why ‘materialist dialectics’ is correct, but ‘dialectical materialism’ is not. The modifier here is ‘materialist’ not ‘dialectics.’’’

I was speaking at the time in a kind of philosophical shorthand. The section my friend asked about could actually be expanded into three books.

As a general statement of my view, let’s look at the first part: why do I say that purpose and meaning exist outside of the thing itself? The first and perhaps the best way to answer that takes us to a kind of Zen Buddhist understanding of reality: that is, anything or process is, on one level, if you withdraw your judgment or interpretation of it, merely is itself; it just is. It doesn’t, and you don’t have a purpose; they and you just are.

For the sake of clarity, I am going to do much of this in a dialogue format.

Question: Is it valid to say that nothing has a purpose unless we create that purpose for it? That is, it is fair to say that the meaning or the purpose is necessarily outside of it?

Answer: Let me begin with three examples: the first concerns art. Many years ago I stopped having an art class when I was a K-12 student because around the sixth grade or so it stopped being a mandatory class. I was accustomed before then to being my art teacher's favorite student. I did take up photography and for a time did it professionally, so I guess you can say I had an artistic outlet. But before I picked up Betty Edwards' classic Drawing on the Right Side of Your Brain I thought I had lost my artistic ability from lack of use. I did the exercises she gives in her book and discovered that I had not lost it after all. Edwards tells a story in the book in which she would draw something for the class, and would eventually stop talking altogether and just draw. At first, she didn't realize what she was inadvertently doing but eventually she did come to realize why she stopped talking: her right brain would take over and it is on the right side where visualization is and what she was drawing was not purposeful, it was just itself. 

The second example I'm going to give concerns my yoga practice. I took up yoga many decades ago but have gotten more serious about it in the last few years. I do it mostly on my own, but the reason I bring it up here is because I long ago noticed that when I thought about how a particular pose I was doing looked, I would invariably fall out of the pose because I wasn't being mindful, I was concerned how I looked.

The third example I'm going to give is learning how to write poetry. I had always marveled at the people who got published in the high school literary journal. "How did they do it?" I wondered. Edwards' book gave me the clue I needed to make a breakthrough: when you are doing something artistic, whether that is a painting or another form of fiction such a poem, you cannot do a good job if you go about it purposefully or didactically as in, for example, I am going to make this play about why Trump and the GOP especially are stupid jerks and no one should follow them and what they should do instead. That would end up badly as an intended work of art because while you cannot avoid politics in the general sense of chosing a path and making choices, the artistic project has to take on a life of its own and not just be a vehicle for your specific ideas about something in a narrow partisan sense. 

Finally, let me give you an example from sports. They call the event "being in the zone."  No athlete is always in the zone and some maybe never experience but a few moments ot it. Joe Montana when he would lead his team down the field for the winning touchdown described it as time slowing down for him. Michael Jordan when he was in the zone said the hoop looked huge to him. Players in all kinds of sports describe a similar feeling of an egoless state of flow. In short, when you are in the zone, the self and with it any purpose outside of yourself disappears. 

Catholic priests and other kinds of organized religions when they are stuck for an answer will say something like “God works in mysterious ways.” Maybe that is the answer: it is beyond reason.

Q: If you must suspend reason to accept something that seems completely unreasonable – such as 25,000 babies a year worldwide dying due to not having access to clean water – then absolutely anything is also just as possible. You have to suspend the rules of reason after all and if you do then I could have a six-foot high invisible rabbit named Harvey next to me who speaks English but I can only understand him and see him. Who are you to say no? You’ve thrown all criteria except perhaps emotion out the window, so in that light anything, no matter how absurd, is just as good as anything else.

A: But there are times when reasonable people such as scientists don’t agree and some of them, it turned out eventually, were wrong.

Q: It is one thing to say that not everything was known then and quite a different thing to say that you are suspending all reason. The first has been demonstrably true, but just because something turned out differently than was thought, doesn’t then mean it’s all wrong.  

A and Q: Ok. I see that difference. But I can imagine empty space, contrary to what you claim that I cannot do.

A: It is true that you can imagine indefinite empty space, but who is doing that imagining? You, the observer. If an observer is not there then you can no more imagine infinite empty space then you can imagine infinite solid space. Space without something to compare it against is as impossible as a spirit before a physical universe or a spirit existing side-by-side but either occupying no space (such as heaven) or in everything (immanent).

Q: Isn’t the idea of some kind of universal consciousness occupying all things possible?

A: We should distinguish between everything being connected and a universal consciousness. A brain must have neurons for it to first exist.

Some of us never ask that question, it’s true, but those who just live their lives and never ask some version of that question live a poorer life for that reason. It’s not really an answer if “we’ve always done it this way” is the answer.

The existentialists would argue that one chooses what one will – to be kind or to be cruel - and therefore humans are free (contrary to what religions argue: that you are chosen by god to be this or that, for this purpose or that). Existentialists also argue that existence precedes essence.

I would agree with existentialists about both of these matters. However, contrary to the existentialists, I would point out two things.

First, what chooses to do is not completely unhampered by one’s position. For example, those who order others to commit torture are more guilty than those who follow their orders, even though the latter are still responsible for their actions, and they should be punished severely for such a crime, but less than those in charge should be punished.

Second, choice is a product of many different factors (such as one's class, one’s gender, one’s nationality, etc.) which is not freely chosen. There are those who overcome their backgrounds, but that is not something we can count on most people to do. For example, how many can we expect to be a Gautama Buddhist (Buddhism’s founder)? If you organize society in such a way that you expect and count on everyone to be a Gautama, then you will fail, just as you would fail basing society on the worst of humanity, as capitalism does: assuming as neoliberal philosophers do, that we are “naturally” greedy, selfish and motivated solely or mainly by material rewards. If this were true of most of us or all of us, then society itself would be impossible since any form of society, even the most competitive and heartless, such as in America right now.

To be continued - in this series: Dialectics Precede and Are Primary Over Materailism Part I 

Part 2 (On the Basic Nature of Reality)

Part 3 (The Liar's Paradox Solved and Godel's Incompleteness Theorem Revisited)

Part 4 (On Theses on Feuerbach and Marx Melding Materialism with Dialectics)

Part 5 (our decoding of Theses on Feuerbach Continues and Preview Why Dialectics Are Key Even As To Materialism)

Part 6 (Why God Does Not Exist and Why It's Materialist Dialectics, Not Dialectical Materialism)


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Elaine Brower 2

Elaine Brower of World Can't Wait speaking at the NYC Stop the War on Iran rally 2/4/12