Inscrutable Ideas

by G Gordon Worley III2 min read4th Aug 201714 comments


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David Chapman has issued something of a challenge to those of us thinking in the space of what he calls the meta-rational, many people call the post-modern, and I call the holonic. He thinks we can and should be less opaque, more comprehensible, and less inscrutable (specifically less inscrutable to rationalism and rationalists).

Ignorant, irrelevant, and inscrutable
I have changed my mind. It should go without saying that rationality is better than irrationality. But now I realize…

I’ve thought about this issue a lot. My previous blogging project hit a dead end when I reached the point of needing to explain holonic thinking. Around this time I contracted obscurantism and spent several months only sharing my philosophical writing with a few people on Facebook in barely decipherable stream-of-consciousness posts. But during this time I also worked on developing a pedagogy, manifested in a self-help book, that would allow people to follow in my footsteps even if I couldn’t explain my ideas. That project produced three things: an unpublished book draft, one mantra of advice, and a realization that the way can only be walked, not followed. So when I returned to blogging here on Medium my goal was not to be deliberately obscure, but also not to be reliably understood. I had come to terms with the idea that my thoughts might never be fully explicable, but I could at least still write for those without too much dust in their eyes.

The trouble is that holonic thought is necessarily inscrutable without the use of holons, and history shows this makes it very difficult to teach or explain holonic thinking to others. For example, the first wave of post-modernists like Foucault, Derrida, and Lyotard applied Heidegger’s phenomenological epistemology to develop complex, multi-faceted understandings of history, literature, and academic culture. Unfortunately they did this in an environment of high modernism where classical rationalism was taken for granted, so they failed to notice they were building off the strengths of modernism even as they derided its weaknesses. Consequently they focused so much on teaching the subjectivity of experience that they forgot to impress that it was subjective experience of an external reality and left their students with an intellectual tradition now widely regarded as useless for anything other than status signaling.

In comparison Buddhist traditions have, to the extent that bodhi is synonymous with meta-rationality and holonic thinking, done a better job of teaching post-modernism than the post-modernists did. Indic philosophical traditions hit upon post-modern ideas at least as early as the Axial Age and they became central to Buddhist philosophy around 200 CE. I’d argue the sutras of Buddhism do no better than the texts of the post-modernists at teaching holon-level thinking, but over the centuries Buddhist schools also developed tantric instruction that created environments in which practitioners were able to play and later work with holons. It appears to me these “esoteric” techniques tapped in to the same developmental psychology operating in personal growth and in doing so created lineages that provide paths to holon-level thinking that people traverse to this day.

I suspect the key differentiator of the experiential learning of personal growth and tantra from the textual learning of academia and sutra is the focus on gnosis over episteme, and this suggests why the meta-rational is inscrutable from rationalism, but I’ll do one better and prove it. To do that it will suffice to show that there exists at least one meta-rational idea that cannot be made scrutable to rationalism. I choose meta-rational epistemology.

Rational/modern/system-relationship epistemology aims to be consistent and complete, meaning it produces a complete ontology. To the extent that there is any disagreement over system-relationship epistemology it is disagreement over how to compute correct ontology. Meta-rational/post-modern/holonic epistemology denies the possibility of a complete ontology via consistent epistemology because epistemology necessarily influences ontology. That is to say, even if some epistemology is consistent, it cannot be complete because it cannot prove its own consistency, thus no consistent epistemology can produce complete ontology. Instead we might have a complete but inconsistent meta-epistemology that chooses between consistent epistemologies in different situations based on telos, like a desire for correspondence to reality or telling an interesting story, but telos asks us to make an axiological evaluation, not an epistemic one, and thus we are forced to admit that even our consistent and complete meta-epistemology needs a free variable, hence cannot actually be complete.

In this way holonic epistemology is necessarily inscrutable to system-relationship epistemology because it explicitly demands the latter do something it explicitly cannot. To be fair, system-relationship epistemology does the same thing to pre-rational/traditional/system epistemology by demanding consistency that the latter cannot tolerate because it would violate its internal completeness, but I think this is infrequently acknowledged because if you grew up in the shadow of the modern world you probably didn’t notice when modernity demanded this of you. And unless you learned to ignore the problem, the modern world constantly gives you opportunities to experience the system-relationship level of complexity and obtain gnosis of it. But obtaining gnosis of the post-modern and holonic seems to require that a great tragedy befall you or that you have enough dedication to tolerate the pain of finding it, so beyond better building the episteme of holons for those few with more than doxa of them, I’m doubtful being less inscrutable will accomplish much of what Chapman seems to hope it will.

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